Egyptians vote abroad

Egyptians living out of the country are casting their votes for the country's elections

Egypt citizens outside Tahir Square. Picture: AFP

CAIRO - Egypt's presidential election, set to be the freest it has ever had, began for citizens abroad on Friday after a caustic televised debate between two candidates that produced no clear favourite to lead the most populous Arab nation.

Egyptians who overthrew President Hosni Mubarak as uprisings hit the Arab world last year are savouring the spectacle of politicians competing for their votes. The streets are abuzz with argument over who is the best man to tackle poverty and corruption and uphold their new-found freedoms.

With no obvious winner for now, the fewer than 1 million expatriates registered to vote in consulates between May 11 and 17 may help swing the election. Recent polls suggest the race is wide open, with many citizens yet to make up their minds.

Expatriates who have registered to vote are a minority among the 6 to 8 million Egyptians who live abroad, mostly in Europe, North America and Gulf Arab states, according to official figures cited by local media.

In France, Abd El Aal Shady, 55, an agriculture engineer living in Paris, said he had voted for leftist Hamdeen Sabahy.

"He is the black horse of this presidential election because he is the most famous to have fought the former government since he was a student," Shady said. "If (Amr) Moussa wins, it is catastrophic for the people. It leads to a second revolution."

Hundreds of Egyptians queued in front of their embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh to cast their votes. "For the first time in my life, I take part in elections, and I don't know how it will end or who will win," said one of them, Mahy Samir.

In Rome, Aiman Younes, 45, a pizza maker, said he had voted for Abol Fotouh because he deemed him honest. "I think it will get better. We are going through some difficulties but I hope things will improve, we just need a bit of time," Younes said.

"Egypt is not used to this sort of thing. Slowly people will get used to it. I want the new president to focus on helping poor people, and making sure everyone has enough to eat."

Gihan Defi, 36, a housewife with three children in Rome, said she had cast her ballot for Moussa. "We don't want to fight, we just want things to be settled, and for peace in the country," she said. "I want the new president to help the country, help women and children, and make Egyptians happy."