In a ruling issued Tuesday (October 25th), the Court of the State Council -- the Egyptian judicial system's administrative court -- ordered the Egyptian government to provide all logistical and technical resources to allow Egyptians living abroad to vote in upcoming elections.
The court also suspended a High Election Commission (HEC) resolution prohibiting the establishment of polling stations in embassies and consulates abroad.
The ruling marks the first time in the history of Egyptian elections that Egyptians living abroad will be allowed to vote.
A number of expatriate Egyptians working with the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre had filed lawsuits against the head of the HEC, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the prime minister and the interior minister.
The lawsuit demanded the establishment of polling stations in Egypt's foreign embassies to enable Egyptian expatriates to participate in elections.
The government argued that it would be difficult to have judges on hand to oversee elections abroad, and that it lacked the means to provide the necessary travel and financial resources.
It also argued that Egyptian embassies had not conducted censuses of citizens living abroad and their corresponding places of residence in Egypt, which determines the electoral district and candidates they are eligible to elect for the People's Assembly.
According to unofficial statistics, the number of expatriate Egyptians ranges between eight million and 11 million -- the highest percentage residing in the Gulf states, followed by the United States and Canada. The number of Egyptians eligible to vote is 50 million.
Abdel Moez Ibrahim, head of the HEC, an independent commission supervising the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, said the commission respects all of the court's rulings and is committed to their implementation.
In an interview with private television channel CBC, he said that the scarcity of judges available to supervise elections and the lack of data on expatriate Egyptians are the main obstacles to implementing the ruling in the short period of time preceding the elections.
Parliamentary elections for the People's Assembly and Shura Council, the lower and upper chambers of parliament, will take place in three rounds beginning November 28th. The People's Assembly will convene for its first legislative session at the end of January, while the Shura Council will convene in March.
Political parties and legal experts welcomed the court's decision, with some describing it as "historic".
Farid Zahran, head of the Egyptian Liberation Party, told Al-Shorfa, "Egyptian expatriates constitute a large voting bloc. Excluding them would unjustly alienate a large segment of the Egyptian people."
"The Egyptian expatriate vote could possibly change the political map of the upcoming election because their views are independent since the vast majority of them are educated and they thirst to participate in the political process in Egypt," Zahran said.
"Implementing the ruling turns a new page wherein we discard the legacy of the previous tyrannical regime, which precluded millions of Egyptian expatriates from expressing their opinion freely in elections."
Ahmed Saif al-Islam, head of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, said the court's decision legitimises Egypt's electoral system.
"This historic ruling came to correct the previous regime's egregious exclusion of a significant segment of the Egyptian people, in addition to the fact that the integrity and legitimacy of the electoral process is fundamentally based on the participation of all Egyptians without discrimination or exclusion," he told Al-Shorfa.
Al-Islam underscored the importance of commitment on the part of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the government and the HEC to implement the ruling.
Abdullah Helmi, a Reform and Development Party leader and candidate to represent Cairo in the People's Assembly, told Al-Shorfa that the exclusion of Egyptian expatriates from voting is illogical, especially after the revolution.
"The process of establishing polling stations and generating census data on expatriates is not difficult and requires no more than two weeks because the process of reconciling the tables of more than 50 million eligible voters in Egypt was accomplished within one month," he said.
Helmi said that judicial oversight of overseas election committees is unnecessary because "consuls could take the place of judges in overseeing the polling".
"Also, international observers could be used, and expatriate volunteers could be recruited to administer the process from the beginning, including the vote count," he said. "It is not necessary for officials to travel from here to every country in the world where Egypt has an embassy."