Egyptian expats' struggle to vote from abroad has been public and very lengthy. Although Egyptians abroad are estimated at about 11 million, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, just more than 400,000 have registered to vote.
Britain is known as one of the main destinations for Egyptian immigrants and students alike. According to Al-Ahram newspaper, there are half-a-million Egyptians living in Britain, yet only just over 20,000 have registered to vote through the Egyptian Embassy in London, according to the 2011 elections website.
The numbers are depressingly small and do not explain the hoopla that happened over Egyptians voting abroad. I decided to walk around London and find out why Egyptians don’t want to vote.
Mohamed Rahmy, a former economist and now a graduate student at the University of London, tells me he is definitely going to vote. Rahmy has been following the struggle of Egyptians abroad to vote from day one. To him it makes no sense that it is logistically difficult for Egyptians abroad to vote, since people all over the world do it.
“I made sure to wake up very early on the first day of registration to go on the website and register as soon as possible. The website is straightforward but what is really annoying is that there is no information out there about who is running where," he tells me.
On returning to Egypt, he says, “I’m not sure if I am going back or not after I finish my degree. If liberals win the majority of seats in parliament, I’ll definitely be returning, no doubt. In case Islamists win the majority, it will depend on if I find a good opportunity in Egypt or not."
Many Egyptians abroad fear Islamists attaining power. However, Rahmy does not seem to be worried.
“Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, care about their economic interests. Most of them are businessmen, so they would never make decisions that would hurt Egypt economically," Rahmy says. “I don’t like the idea of a political party with a religious ideology anyway, but I also believe that everyone deserves to be represented in Parliament, especially since Egyptians' religion plays an important role in their lives."
“I wish that educated people understood that the challenge is not on the online community or virtual world. Enough questionnaires, links, Facebook groups and tweets," Rahmy says.
He urges activists to go to the streets and deal with the population, the real Egyptians. Before Rahmy left, he made sure to state that he is optimistic about the outcome of the election. He does not foresee any cheating: “I am giving the military the benefit of the doubt,” he tells me.
Walking on Edgeware, the well-known Arab street in London, I walk past a restaurant and coffee shop called El Shishawy. A huge uproar comes from the open kitchen at the entrance of the restaurant. It turns out all the cooks are Egyptian protesters — and they were all pessimistic. I could feel the negative vibe coming at me.
One of the cooks comes up to me and tells me that I need not be discussing the elections since it is just a big show. That cook is Samy Youssef, also part-time master's student at the University of Westminster. He says he is funding his education himself by working at El Shishawy.
Although Youssef seemed to be aware of everything that is happening in Egypt and has very strong political views, he did not register to vote.
He believes that his vote will not matter because everything in Egypt will stay the same.
“The revolution did nothing other than get Egyptians better treatment at Cairo airport. No one knows what is happening and this is, of course, in the interest of none other than SCAF," he tells me, referring to Egypt's ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Youssef continues angrily: “SCAF is quiet, and quietness is scary. The army is known to have a comfortable living. They do not know how the people feel. As long as they are in power, they are not going to give it up. There is no roadmap, no plan. Every political party is clashing with the other and it is all in the favor of SCAF."
Although he is against the trial of ex-president Hosni Mubarak, he believes that the former president is an army man and thus should be put on military trial, while civilians who are currently being put on military trial should get civilian trials. “It is all just wrong,” says Youssef.
Youssef will not return to Egypt unless he feels that everyone is equal and treated the same way.
“The law should be the only judge. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, have connections or no connections," Youssef says. "Egypt is richer than England — trust me, it is." Before he went back to work I started pushing the idea of an Islamist majority in Parliament, thinking that it would appeal to him. I was wrong. Youssef agreed that Islamists will win the majority of seats in Parliament; however, it didn’t seem like it meant the just society he wants.
“Egyptians are very religious and emotional. What matters to me though is: do these Islamist parties really do what religion says, or do they cater religion to their own benefit?” He continues, “Politics a part of life. If a Christian wins and creates justice in Egypt and gives us freedom, we will be happy. All we need is social justice, not a place for the rich and place for the poor."
Osama Farouk, another cook at El Shishawy, was also eager to talk to me. Also a part-time master's student, Farouk tells me that he will vote in the presidential elections but not the parliamentary ones, because he doesn't know who is running in his district.
Unlike Youssef, Farouk has always voted in parliamentary elections against the National Democratic Party (NDP). He explains that “before the revolution, usually the people running against the NDP were Muslim Brotherhood members. I only voted for them because they were running against the NDP."
If Farouk was to vote this time around, he would vote for “someone from the revolution.”
“I really want the liberals to win,” he says. He gives specific examples of groups and candidates, such as Kefaya, April 6 Youth Movement, Asmaa Mahfouz, Esraa Abdel Fattah and Shadi al-Ghazali Harb. But if Islamists win the majority of seats, he believes that they will not enforce Sharia law. “They will not want to upset the West, since they care about their economic interests,” says Farouk.
Farouk wants to return to Egypt once he has done his master's. “Life here is hard,” he tells me.