|It is still unclear how the Egyptian nationals living overseas will be able to vote in the upcoming polls [EPA]|
Egyptian expatriates have been granted the right to vote after a vigorous campaign – a major victory for the estimated 8 million Egyptian nationals living abroad.
But the victory may turn out to be more symbolic than substantial, given the possibility that the expats may not finally get to cast their ballots.
With parliamentary elections scheduled to start from November 28, online registration for nationals living abroad started on November 10.
By November 12, only 41,500 of them had registered – a number which rose to 99,118 by November 14, according to the official election website – leading to speculation that the expat vote could be scuttled altogether because of poor registration.
Egyptian news site Al Dostor cited an unnamed source in the High Elections Committee as saying that overseas voting was highly unlikely. According to the official, the commission has a week “to clear things” before determining whether to hold the overseas vote or cancel it.
Ossama Kamel, an expert in international election policies currently based in Cairo, told Al Jazeera that the course of the expat voting process remains unclear.
“But carrying out voting for Egyptians living abroad is a real nightmare on many levels, mainly on the legal and logistic fronts, so if they could find anyway around doing it, for sure they would do it,” said Kamel.
He added that rights activists in Egypt would be keeping a close on eye on what decision is ultimately taken on the vote for expats.
The possibility that an expat vote might not happen all together has created a frenzy among the overseas Egyptian community, which has kicked up its #Right2Vote campaign on Twitter to get Egyptians out to register.
And even if things go as planned, there is still some confusion as to who can vote and how voting will take place.
Egyptian authorities initially decided that expats would only be allowed to vote using their national identification cards, and that those without cards – or with cards issued after September 27 – would not be eligible to vote in the parliamentary elections, though they could participate in future referendums and the presidential election.
But Egypt’s Minister of Manpower and Emigration Ahmed Hassan Al-Borai later said that voters could use their passports as identification and that their names would be cross-checked against a database of names with national identification numbers.
However, the website registering overseas voters does not offer users the alternative of using a passport number – only a national identification number is accepted.
“Out of my five-member family, only two of us can vote,” said Hany Ghobrial, 38. The Paris-based restaurant owner and his mother are the only two in the family with national ID cards – his two sisters and his father, he said, only have passports.
Besides, Ghobrial remains unconvinced that the Egyptian government really intends to allow an expat vote.
“They’ve only moved toward this maybe two or three weeks ago. Can you actually imagine a government trying to arrange elections for people abroad three weeks before the elections?” said Ghobrial.
He anticipates seeing a group of lawyers at the Egyptian consulate in Paris on November 28, collecting and documenting evidence to pursue a case against Egyptian election officials.
According to the official registration site, more than half of those registered for the elections live in the Middle East, specifically, the Gulf countries.
According to Ghobrial, the reason could be that expats in the Gulf visit Egypt more often and have a national ID, unlike those living in the west.
And it is also perhaps easier to mobilise the expat community living in the small Gulf nations.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians packed a Doha stadium hosting a football friendly between Brazil and Egypt on November 14, with flyers at the parking lot urging them to unite.
Many of the Egyptians among the crowd were as much excited about the match as they were with the upcoming vote.
“I was very happy to hear that I could vote – it makes you feel like real, tangible change is possible,” Nadine Loutfi, who works for the Qatar Foundation, told Al Jazeera.