A sense of euphoria sweeps embassies as Egyptians living abroad exercise their franchise to decide on next leader
New York, NY - Egypt's landmark presidential poll is still a week away, but thousands of Egyptians living abroad are already lining up at their respective embassies to cast their ballots.
Polls are open at 166 diplomatic missions worldwide until May 17 for the estimated 600,000 expatriates who are eligible to vote.
The presidential race is crowded with 13 candidates in the field, and the expat community is divided over whom the next leader should be.
But what binds them together is their craving for change, and the restoration of dignity back home.
"We don't want to be second-class citizens in our own country," said Wesam, an Egyptian woman who has been living in Qatar for seven years with her husband, Mohammed. They have two young children.
They said they had been planning to support Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafi politician who was considered one of the frontrunners - until he was declared ineligible because his mother held US citizenship. Now they are backing Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an independent candidate who was formerly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a neighboring Gulf country, Kaiser Moussa wants no Islamic influence in the new Egyptian government. Moussa is a filmmaker from the port city of Alexandria and has been living in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for four years. He believes none of the candidates deserve the top post in his country, and plans to boycott the election.He said he would only vote for Hamdeen Sabahi, head of the Dignity Party, if he becomes one of the top two contenders - but does not expect him to make it to that level. "The system is not ready for a fair scientific voting procedure," said Moussa.
Moussa's friend Kareem is an architect and has been living in Dubai since 2007. He also does not like any of the candidates.
"Each one has its negative," said Kareem. "They are all influenced by their backgrounds and are driven by the extreme right or left." Kareem said he was upset that none of the candidates have come out and directly criticised Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and believes the military is protecting the old regime.
Egypt's Presidential Candidates
Amr Moussa, Independent
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Independent
Ahmed Shafiq, Independent
Mohamed Morsi, Freedom and Justice Party
Hamdeen Sabahi, Dignity Party
Mohdem Selim al-Awa, Independent
Abul-Ezz Al-Hariri, Socialist Popular Alliance
Khaled Ali, Independent
Hisham al-Bastawisi, Tagammu
Hossam Khairallah, Democratic Peace
Mohamed Fawzy, Democratic Generation
Mahmoud Hossam, Independent
Abdullah El-Ashaal, Authenticity Party
But Mohamed El Gohary, a banker who has lived in London for more than 15 years, disagreed. Originally from Port Said, El Gohary has spent most of his life in Europe and the Gulf. He is still deciding whether to vote for Aboul Fotouh or Mohammed Moursi of the Brotherhood-linked Freedom and Justice Party.
He said that the Muslim Brotherhood did not initially field a candidate, so as not to scare the other parties, and it turned out to be a strategic error on their part.
"A big bang approach to changing the system is not the best of things," says El Gohary. "They want to continue with a semi-parliamentary system and only submitted a candidate when they thought someone was trying to undermine parliament."
He added that living in the UK or Europe gives one "the best of both worlds", given that one can keep an Egyptian identity while being exposed to other ideas.
Sense of euphoria
Nancy Elshami also lives in the West. She was born and raised in the United States and is an economic researcher in New York City. Her family travels to Egypt every year.
Elshami voted for Aboul Fotouh, even though she prefers Sabahi more as a candidate. "I don't think Sabahi has a good chance of winning," she said. "It's more of a strategic vote for me."
Live Box 20111120475439857Elshami will travel to Cairo this week to help with Aboul Fotouh's campaign.
"Aboul Fotouh's affiliation with political Islam makes him a more familiar candidate," says Elshami. "The fact that he has a female leftist as his campaign manager speaks volumes to me about the direction of his presidential programme."
Back at the embassies, a sense of euphoria spreads through the lines as voters near the polling stations. After completing the identification process, each voter signs their name, chooses a candidate, and casts a vote by dropping it in the ballot box.
It is a small step to influence an uncertain political future.