Just over a year ago, Egyptians living abroad voted in a referendum on a new constitution put forward by an elected Muslim Brotherhood-led government, which was ousted by the army last July following a period of violent unrest. Starting on January 8, thousands of people are expected to visit Egyptian embassies worldwide to cast ballots on another draft constitution. This one is supported by Egypt’s military-backed interim government, which – by banning Islamist parties and scrapping parts of the former government’s legislation – reflects the shift in power in Egypt. Expatriates will be able to vote until January 12, ahead of the referendum at home which is slated for January 14-15. “It’s essential that everyone votes in this referendum, whatever their vote may be,” said Sabry Fahmy, an Egyptian who lives in Doha, Qatar. “Whether it’s in favour of or against the constitution, your vote must be made. For us abroad, taking part in these polls has been one of our main gains from this saga.” About 2.7 million Egyptians live outside the country, according to the International Organisation on Migration, but other reports peg the figure far higher – closer to eight million.
Yet only 681,346 Egyptian expatriates have registered to vote on the elections committee’s website. “Not all Egyptians abroad are closely tied to the country, and it takes dedication and commitment for them to go out of their way and participate,” said Shadi Hamid, the director of research for the Brookings Doha Centre.
Egypt declares Brotherhood ‘terrorist group’
The constitution, which will pave the way for presidential and legislative elections later in the year, is part of the political roadmap announced on July 3 by army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who led the toppling of the country’s first freely elected President Mohamed Morsi.
Forging ahead with the roadmap has not, however, restored a sense of normality to the streets of Egypt’s cities. The political turbulence that has crippled Egypt since the 2011 revolt ending Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule has worsened in recent months.
More than 1,000 people, mostly supporters of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, have died in a months-long violent crackdown. The group was declared a terrorist organsation by the interim government on December 25, a move widely seen to be a precursor for an even more intense clampdown on the country’s oldest political group.
Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and policemen have also fallen victim to attacks by armed Islamists in the Sinai Peninsula, who have recently become active in cities in the Nile Delta as well.