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Islamists rallied to influence voters in Saudi Arabia: Egyptian community representative - Daily News Egypt

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Islamists rallied to influence voters in Saudi Arabia: Egyptian community representative

Low participation in parliamentary elections, voters confused between candidates

Egyptians abroad began casting their votes in the 2015 parliamentary elections in over 100 countries Saturday. Elections abroad will continue on Sunday.

Voter turnout was rather low Saturday morning, slightly increasing throughout the day, according to several reports by representatives of Egyptian communities abroad.

Head of the Egyptians Abroad Union in Saudi Arabia, Emam Youssef, told Daily News Egypt that “Islamists” supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist party began rallying in front of the polling station in Riyadh. “We called the police which arrested them, but another group emerged,” Youssef said.

A large Egyptian community resides in Saudi Arabia, but Youssef said that participation was lower than expected due to several reasons, on top of which the lack of polling stations. “People here have to travel really long distances up to 700 and 1,200 km to reach the capital Riyadh or the consulate in Jeddah,” he explained.

Youssef estimated the number of Egyptians in Saudi Arabia to be close to two million, 40% of which are eligible for voting. In his opinion, previous electoral events such as the constitutional referendum and presidential elections saw more participation.

“We don’t know most of the candidates, especially those running for seats aimed at representing Egyptians abroad inside the parliament,” Youssef stated. He added that people have been following Egyptian satellite channels.

“Fi Hob Misr list headed by Sameh Seif El-Yazal promoted themselves as “undefeatable and winners because they are supported by the state, despite the president saying he would stand at a distance from all candidates, and this has affected voters’ opinion of the elections,” Youssef said.

Howeida Ahmed, an Egyptian Arabic teacher living in Saudi Arabia, stressed on her permanent contact with her homeland which helped her to choose the right candidate in parliamentary elections.

“Despite living in Jeddah, I have never lost contact with my family and friends back home, so I asked them about the candidates and I researched their backgrounds before voting,” said Ahmed. She added that she really hopes the chosen candidates will work hard to solve problems facing Egyptian expatriates.

Meanwhile, participation was much higher in Kuwait, according to Youssef.

In Europe, Saturday is a working day. According to Hany Shenouda, a senior representative of the Egyptian community in France, it is expected that more participants will take part in the elections on Sunday.

“Today is a cold day in Paris, and the weekend starts tomorrow. For those reasons, participation was rather low,” Shenouda told Daily News Egypt on Saturday. He added that the embassy had properly organised itself for the elections with the presence of a diplomatic mission from Egypt.

“The French police was also present,” he said. Asked about voters’ awareness, Shenouda gave a rather pleasant image by stating that “Egyptians know whom to vote for and how to cast their votes. They have done their research by following the media, researched the Internet and discussed with friends and families.”

Nonetheless, he pointed out that voters knew more about the lists than individual candidates. Shenouda said the Egyptian community in France was about 140,000 and that there was another polling station in Marseille.

Meanwhile, Ghada Agamy, a candidate in the “Fi Hob Misr” lists in the UAE, said that participation in the elections had been low but that it was expected to increase in the afternoon, after the provision of buses to take voters to the polling station.

Both Shenouda and Agamy confirmed that electoral advertisement abroad was forbidden. “I took permission to hold a public conference recently, but other than that posters and similar things we see in Egypt are forbidden,” Agamy told Daily News Egypt.

Shenouda denied any anti-Egyptian government protests at the time he spoke with Daily News, while Agamy insisted that this was partly the reason why electoral campaigning was prohibited. “We cannot have rallies and chant in a way that would disrupt public order in another country,” Agamy stated.

She said she depended more on the Internet and personal meetings to communicate with voters. “I have lived abroad for over 30 years and I targeted community leaders of different categories of people such as teachers, businessmen, and so on, and they would spread the word to the rest,” she said.

However, she admitted that she was able to have a limited number of T-shirts printed with the name and logo of her list, “because both could be used in a broader meaning to promote Egypt in general, as if they were encouraging tourism for instance”.

However, she said that “up to this moment” she was still facing the issue of voters not being fully aware of the procedures. “These elections are different than the referendum on the constitution and presidential elections because they require that the voter makes extra effort in finding out who the candidates are, especially those that have been away for a long period of time and do not know most of them.”

Fawzya Khaleel, one of Al-Nour Party candidates for the eight seats representing Egyptians abroad spoke about how she promotes her candidacy. “Any propaganda abroad is banned by the law,” Khaleel said. “We only depend on the word of mouth to market our list outside Egypt.”

Meanwhile, unconfirmed information emerged about the actual location of candidates running under the category of Egyptians abroad, suggesting some were actually staying in Egypt. Khaleel said: “It was not a requirement from the candidate to be working abroad, however there must be proof of residence abroad.”

Candidates abroad don’t have to completely move to Egypt to attend all parliament sessions. “We only have to attend sessions that discuss any laws related to Egyptians abroad,” said Khaleel.

But Agamy said that the law stipulated that a candidate running for seats designated for Egyptians living abroad should have lived in that country for at least ten years and continue to be a resident in it. “But in the end, the responsibility falls on voters. They can research the candidate’s name and decide if he is suitable for the representation or not,” Agamy concluded.

Despite their different countries and locations within countries, Egyptians abroad agreed they have never seen any kind of advocacy or promotion for candidates and their programmes. They also said they did not receive information from the embassy or alerts. However, they had different reasons behind their participation or boycott.

A TV producer based in the UAE, Khabab, told Daily News Egypt he did not even know the exact dates of the elections. “I also do not know the candidates or their programmes. Whoever wants to follow the elections news, watches the Egyptian TV channels,” he said.

An Egyptian journalist in the UAE, Marina Makary, said she was scheduled to vote in the second electoral phase in November. “But most likely, I will not vote anyway. I do not even know who is running and I do not think they will make any difference than the previous parliament, so why should I vote. I would rather vote when I feel like my vote could make a difference,” she said.

Abdelhalim Abdullah, another resident of the UAE, said he made his choice according to his political views meaning that instead of looking at which candidates could represent him, he voted for some he believes are not aligned with the current regime and “might create an opposition bloc in the upcoming parliament”.

“I also endorse having a political system as a step forward. However, there was no promotion for any of the candidates abroad, I just followed from the news that today is the voting, but never received anything from the embassy telling me to go vote or anything,” Abdullah added.

Nouran, an Egyptian graduate student living in Denmark said she might vote just to see how it goes. “I think it will represent Egyptians abroad if they go vote. However, the potential impact of the upcoming parliament depends mainly on the electoral process, voters’ percentage, whether if it was fair and transparent and violations-free,” she said.

Finally, for Peter, who is an Egyptian worker living in the US, choosing from the lists was easier. “Choosing from the lists is pretty easy, as it is not difficult to identify the list’s background, but we face a huge problem when we try to choose for the individual seats,” said Peter. He also added that he relies a lot on his friends in Egypt to inquire on the right candidates to vote for.

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