By Zoe Sullivan
By Zoe Sullivan
London, November 3, 2011
Tahrir Square riveted the world this year with the passionate calls for democracy in Egypt. Nine months after Mubarak’s ouster, non-resident Egyptians are still wondering if they will be permitted to vote this month.
While Egypt’s First Circuit Administrative Court of Justice issued a decision on October 25th allowing citizens to vote outside of Egypt, the ball is now in the court of the country’s military rulers to put that decree into practice.
The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo estimates the number of citizens abroad at 10 million. One source said that there were 40 million Egyptians in Egypt who were eligible to vote in 2010, which would make the non-resident vote significant.
In the UK, the Egyptian Consulate welcomed the decision on facebook. “We are happy and excited about the possibility of Egyptians voting abroad. We have worked extremely hard to convey the desires and wishes of our community in UK to authorities in Egypt for the past couple of years.”
In spite of this glowing response, multiple attempts to arrange an interview or obtain further offiicial comment went unanswered.
The prime minister assured Egyptians Sunday that citizens outside of the country would be able to vote. However, measures must still be taken to carry out the court’s order, and it is not clear when this will happen. An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who asked not to be named said that he didn’t know when the steps to accommodate voting from abroad would happen.
Responding to a call for rallies in front of embassies around the world last weekend, frustrated Egyptians gathered in front of their London Embassy. They were joined by others in New York, Bern, Madrid, Stockholm, Melbourne, Ottawa and Hong Kong.
Azza Ahmed Zaik, who has been living in the UK for three years so that her son can obtain specialized medical care, helped organize the event. She also said she has been maintaining a daily vigil since June 29th. That was a day of intense clashes in Cairo resulting from frustration at the slow pace of justice for members of Mubarak’s regime.
“People abroad are very aware of the problems back in Egypt,” she said. “Especially when you are abroad, you are not like in Egypt. You have felt the breeze of freedom and that you have this right [to vote].” Ahmed Zaik claimed that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) doesn’t want the input of non-resident Egyptians and this is the reason for the delay on voting rights.
Dr. Mariz Tadros, a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies focusing on democratization and Islamist politics, pointed out that while the SCAF has complained about the difficult logistics of organizing voting abroad, “they have completely refused international in technical provision, in technical capacity support in making the elections inclusive and open for all.”
One tension underlying voting from abroad regards the prominence that conservative Islam will play in the country’s new government.
Some Egyptians worry about how conservative Islamic groups will influence Egypt’s new government, but according to Tadros, the issue of non-residents obtaining the vote goes beyond this.
“[T]heir ties to Egypt, in many cases, have continued to be just as strong as if they were living in Egypt. So they feel very strongly about their Egyptian citizenship, and they feel that one of the fundamental rights of their citizenship is to be able to convey their voices in what kind of state, what kind of government we want in the upcoming years.”
Pact of convenience
At the same time, Tadros said, “we also know that the armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood are in what the Muslim brotherhood have called ‘a strategic pact’…so we know that in the light of this pact, the armed forces have certainly given more political freedoms and more political space for the Islamist parties to maneuver and engage politically than the liberal forces.”
The military may have its own reasons for favoring conservative groups. The Egyptian military and the arms industry account for roughly 40 percent of the country’s economy. With many Egyptians abroad supporting the revolution and the military cracking down on internal dissent over the slow rate of change since Mubarak’s fall, the Muslim Brotherhood may offer the armed forces a more convenient partnership.