x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nearly 30,000 Egyptians turn out in UAE to vote on constitution

Over six days of voting, a total of 13,470 ballots were cast at the Egyptian Embassy in the capital, and about 16,000 at the consulate in Dubai.

Government employees count ballots after a vote on the draft constitution at the Egyptian embassy in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Over six days of voting, a total of 13,470 ballots were cast in the capital. Christopher Pike / The National
Government employees count ballots after a vote on the draft constitution at the Egyptian embassy in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Over six days of voting, a total of 13,470 ballots were cast in the capital. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // Nearly 30,000 Egyptian expatriates in the UAE turned out to vote on their country's new constitution.

Over six days of voting, a total of 13,470 ballots were cast at the Egyptian Embassy in the capital, and about 16,000 at the consulate in Dubai.

In Abu Dhabi, early counts showed 6,573 votes in favour of the proposed constitution and 6,783 against it.

Though the official results of the voting were yet to be released, the Egyptian ambassador to the UAE, Tamer Mansour, cautioned that they were not necessarily representative of the ballot outcome in Egypt.

"The result is not a clear indication of what the result will be in Egypt," Mr Mansour said.

Counting had begun in the capital, where more than 20 staff, monitors and election committee members spent two-and-a-half hours arranging ballots, and placing them in "yes" and "no" piles.

Since polls opened last Wednesday, Egyptians turning up at the embassy have expressed varied reasons for their decisions to vote for or against the new constitution.

Some voted in favour to support the president, Mohamed Morsi, while others wanted to avoid divisions in their home country.

Some, like Mr Hassan, voted after reading all 236 articles of the draft constitution.

"I have read all of it well. There are only 14 or 15 articles I am not convinced with, but the president said they would be presented at the parliament and amended," he said.

The articles he disagreed with included those relating to the wide powers given to the president, and press freedom.

Ahmed Abulsalam Abdulhameed, voted against the constitution. "No matter what they say about fixing it, they will not," he said.

He said the situation in Egypt was deteriorating and passing the constitution would anger many. "There is no law in Egypt now, law has ended there," he said.

"We will need a long time for law to come back. The Muslim brothers have now split the country in two, between the Islamists and the liberals. It will take time."

Others, like his wife, voted against the constitution because they felt it would bring an end to the recent protests.

"It is not that I understand the whole constitution, or that I am with it or against it," Umm Husain, who wore an abaya and headscarf, said. "We just want people to live."

She said worrying about the protests and killings had given her sleepless nights.

"What if it was my son who died? If it was my son, nothing would make me feel better except blood for blood."

Others voters said reports in the media had helped them make up their minds.

"I voted against the constitution," Muneer Al Nabawe said. "Educated people who read the constitution said that it was bad. I follow a lot of programmes on TV, on channels like MBC, Egypt TV, Mehwar, Skynews, France 24/7 and Russia Today."

He said any amendments to the constitution should have been done before the vote, not after.

Dr Hanan Hamdi, a paediatrician working in Abu Dhabi, said she deliberately stopped watching TV news channels and reading newspapers before she voted.

"I read the constitution, from A to Z," she said. "I compared it with constitutions from European countries and found that it was the best that they could reach."

She said it was the first time health and education for the whole population, including jobless Egyptians, was guaranteed.

"After reading it I found there was a lot of things said in media that were completely untrue, like people saying girls can get married at the age of 9; it does not say that at all.

"It is just some people trying to prevent Egyptians from benefiting from such a great constitution."

But Christians voters said they were angry and felt as though they were left out.

"The constitution says that a part of the federal budget, which our tax goes towards, will go to [the foremost Islamic authority, Al] Azhar in its programmes to help convert people. I am completely with this, but why does not the Church get the same benefits?" said John Asad.

"Other than that the constitution does not represent all segments of society."

Voting was to have ended on Saturday but was extended by 48 hours to allow more people to vote.

"I was in Germany and returned only yesterday," said Mohamed Hassan, an electrical engineer who works in Abu Dhabi. "If they did not extend, I would have not been able to vote."

The extension was also welcomed by many families who used the school break for the chance to have their say.

"This week the children are off, so we could come; we could not last week," said Sarah, a mother of four who voted for the constitution. "We knew it would be packed on the weekend, so we did not come then either."

The last person to vote at the embassy got there just a minute before the doors closed.

"I was waiting for my Egyptian national ID card to arrive," explained Umm Mustafa, who voted in favour of the constitution.

osalem@thenational.ae