Egypt, Mother of Nations but not of all Egyptians

Egypt, Mother of Nations but not of all Egyptians
5 min read
28 Sep, 2017
Comment: New articles to be added to Egyptian citizenship law give the military regime the final say over the Egyptian-ness of its citizens, writes Gehad Quisay.
An Egyptian citizen weeps over closure of the Rafah Crossing in 2016 [Getty]
The big news out of Egypt this week was the arrest of seven concert goers, when a group of students raised the pride flag at a Mashrou' Leila gig in Cairo.

Egyptian talk shows were abuzz with outrage over the supposed immorality of this show of solidarity - furiously announcing the death of our identity and traditions.

Egyptian media is known to whip itself into a frenzy. The nightly drama so often echoing similar themes in different voices, across various channels. This week, they achieved the government's aim – to distract the masses from a proposed amendment to nationality law.  

The new articles will allow the Egyptian government to get rid of their dissenters once and for all. The regime however argues it is merely protecting national security.

The media's portrayal of the pride flag as a sign of the demise of all that is Egyptian about Egypt was sardonic in more ways than one. Not only did it completely ignore the fact that this was not the first time the flag saw the Egyptian sun - there was a mural decrying homophobia in Tahrir Square - it glossed over the fact that this week the cabinet approved amendments that will potentially deprive Egyptians of their Egyptian-ness.  

Terms and conditions

The two new articles added to the existing nationality law of 1975 – articles 15 and 16 - set conditions that are vague, loose and could be applied to an alarming bulk of Egyptian citizens.

Tahrir Square graffiti that began as anti-gay, 
anti-police mural was amended to become an 
anti-homophobia message [Facebook] 

Article 15 lists ways in which naturalised Egyptian citizens can lose that privilege. The first three of the four instances can be seen as a standard condition for the preservation of naturalised status.

The last condition however states that any naturalised Egyptian citizen convicted of threatening state security will no longer be a citizen.

The second proposed article, number 16, is longer and has more dire consequences. It addresses those born to Egyptian parents, many of whom do not hold secondary citizenships, and losing their legal Egyptian status will render them stateless.

Conditions listed in article 16 are more ambiguous than those in article 15. The third restriction is particularly problematic stating that a natural born Egyptian citizen stands to lose his/her nationality "if he or she works for the benefit of a foreign state or government that is in a state of war with Egypt, or with whom diplomatic relations with Egypt have been cut, due to possible harm to Egypt's military, diplomatic or economic situation or compromises any other national interest".

Translation: Rescinding Egyptian citizenship
wont harm terrorists
and wont benefit the homeland
it is empty nationalism
an increase in fascism
an international scandal
against humanity
Truly there are no limits to their insanity

This condition theoretically applies to some 200,000 Egyptians who live and work in Qatar, a nation Egypt has long attempted to accuse of funding terrorism.

In June, Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain in blockading Qatar. But Egypt was the only blockading nation that did not ask its citizens living in Qatar to return, effectively enforcing a blockade on its own citizens.

Tried and tested

Many have voiced fears that these amendments to citizenship law are merely a solidification of an existing practice targeting political opposition. The Egyptian regime has already been informally implementing the amendments on individual cases of imprisoned dissidents.    

In 2015, Egyptian-American activist Mohamed Soltan was released after two years in prison. President Obama and Secretary John Kerry had pressed the Egyptian government for Soltan's release, however he was released on the condition that he renounce his Egyptian citizenship.

The same condition was imposed on former Al Jazeera journalist, Egyptian Canadian Mohamed Fahmy who was held with his colleagues on charges of spreading false information in the wake of Sisi's 2013 coup. Fahmy escaped a life sentenced after renouncing his natural born citizenship.

Government representative for legal affairs, Colonel Abdel Fattah Sirag, responded in a television interview that the new articles will function as a tool in Egypt's war on terror.

This reference highlights just how problematic the articles are since in 2015 Egypt passed yet another loosely worded law on the classification of terrorists and terrorist organisation by which the government is given liberal reign over the use of the word "terrorist".


Bedoon is an Arabic noun that refers to ethnicity and means "without".

In over 10 years, Egyptians have been without many things: Clean water, reliable electricity supply, affordable food, affordable housing, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association - now Egyptians stand to lose yet another universal human right: Citizenship.

This condition theoretically applies to some 200,000 Egyptians who live and work in Qatar, a nation Egypt has long accused of funding terrorism

Bedoon are often associated with Kuwait where some 10 percent of the population is stateless. In the oil-rich Gulf nation, over a hundred thousand Bedoon pass their outlawed status to their children, who in turn have no right to a birth certificate, state education, drivers licenses and in some extreme cases, employment.

Once approved by parliament, the new articles added to Egyptian nationality laws will allow the Ministry of Interior to revoke citizenship from both naturalised and natural born Egyptian citizens regardless of whether they hold another citizenship, potentially leaving thousands stateless.

The additions to the law do not address these consequences, and it remains unclear how the Egyptian government plans to approach those it strips of their rights.

Egypt is not a signatory of the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons nor is it a party to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The fear is that the newly cast Egyptian Bedoon will face a fate similar to their Kuwaiti counterparts. Sayyid Darwish composer of the Egyptian national anthem, is most famous for another national ballad in which he sang "O' Egyptians stand up, Egypt always calls out to you" But does it?


Gehad Quisay is a history and politics researcher, who graduated from SOAS and Georgetown University. She has also worked as a researcher at a London based think-tank focusing on post-Arab Spring nation building.

Follow her on Twitter: @ghqsy_

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.