WASHINGTON - Voters in Egypt go to the polls Wednesday and Thursday [May 23 and 24] to choose a new president. Ahead of that historic election, Egyptians living overseas have been able to cast their ballots at local consulates and embassies.
In the shade outside of her office in Washington, Nihal Elwan is about to do something she’s never done before. She’s voting for the president of her homeland - Egypt. She has 13 candidates to choose from - including Islamists, leftists and former regime officials - each identified by name and a symbol for voters who cannot read.
"Should the process be transparent, then for the first time, this country will be run by a president who is actually elected. Which is incredible. I mean, it’s incredible," said Elwan.
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Egyptians forced longtime president Hosni Mubarak from office last year during the so-called "Arab Spring" uprisings. A military transitional government has ruled Egypt ever since. Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian ambassador to United States, said the next president must establish stability.
"It’s the institutionalized reforms, laying the foundations of a new Egypt, which I’m sure will not only occupy the president, but all segments of government," said Shoukry.
More than 27,000 Egyptian expatriates registered to vote on the election website. Half of those printed out ballots. Here in Washington, more than 3,000 voted.
Elwan arrives at the embassy to join those thousands. Her identification is checked.
She puts her sealed ballot in a plastic bin, numbered 7. It’s the seventh and final day of voting for Egyptians living outside of Egypt. And, many are embracing their new right to freedom of speech.
Some voters used the outside of their envelopes to comment on the election. It doesn’t desecrate the ballot or affect their vote, but does make a statement. This one reads "Down with military rule. Long live the martyrs."
Elwan did not write that, but she understands what was lost to gain her new privileges.
"Thousands of people died, and the fact that I get to vote means that thousands of people died for the past year and a half for me to be able to vote, so, that’s just so invaluable," she said.
If no candidate emerges as a clear winner after voters in Egypt cast their ballots, a runoff will take place in June.