ABU DHABI // Thousands of Egyptian expatriates turned out in the capital yesterday for the last day of voting ahead of parliamentary elections in their homeland.
More than 19,000 registered voters in the UAE are eligible to cast a ballot in the first phase of elections, the first time Egyptians overseas have been able to do so, after a ruling by a Cairo court last month.
As many as 10,000 residents have voted at the Egyptian embassy or mailed in ballots since voting started on Friday, embassy officials said.
“For Egyptians, they are so happy about this event,” said Tamer Mansour, the Egyptian ambassador to the UAE. “People are coming from all over the UAE. For Egyptians living abroad it is an honour to be able to vote.”
Voting in the first of three phases to determine the lower house of parliament ended at midnight. A team of more than 40 diplomatic workers at the embassy were to count the ballots until early this morning. The votes would then be sent to Cairo ahead of today’s election.
About 37,000 voters registered in the Emirates to vote in the past few weeks in the first democratic election since Hosni Mubarak was forced to stand down as president this year.
At the embassy yesterday afternoon, dozens of voters crowded around three stuffed ballot boxes, struggling to cram their envelopes inside.
“This is the first time in my lifetime that I can vote,” said Sharif Selim, 41, an engineer from Cairo who has lived in the UAE for eight years.
“This is my right as an Egyptian, to have the chance to decide the future of our country. This is my right as an Egyptian, to look forward to a future for our children.”
Turnout in the UAE may have been hampered by confusing bureaucratic procedures and a lack of awareness, some voters said.
“They didn’t organise this well,” said Alamir Al Sheikh, a manager at a Dubai company. “I am ashamed that things were so disorganised. “They announced on Thursday that the elections would start the next day.”
Mr Al Sheikh and other volunteers helped more than 1,500 people courier their ballots, as travelling to the embassy was difficult for some.
“They didn’t give us enough time to plan the voting and things were very rushed,” he said.
An embassy official said some voters might not have understood the requirements for registration.
Another voter said he would vote again despite the confusion in the first phase.
“This will help Egypt come out of the unrest,” said Sameh El Shazly, a site engineer in Sharjah who sent his ballot papers in by courier.
“This is the first time I have voted outside the country. I don’t know whether my vote was received by the right person. I hope the next time will be better and I can vote online.”
The right to vote abroad was a key demand of demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which was the focal point of the Egyptian revolution that began on January 25.
Demonstrations have since returned, with protesters demanding the military cede power to a civilian government.
Mr Mansour, who cast his vote from the embassy, said participating in the elections was bittersweet for some Egyptians.
“Of course we are not happy with the fighting but we will try to solve this,” he said. “We want Egypt to move forward.”
The first phase of voting only applies to specific governorates including Cairo and Alexandria. The remaining registered voters can vote in the next two phases, on December 14 and January 3.