Redefining Egyptian Nationality: Denying Political Rights Through Denying Citizenshipa

2017-10-30    |   

Redefining Egyptian Nationality: Denying Political Rights Through Denying Citizenshipa

In its meeting on September 20, 2017,[1] Egypt’s Cabinet approved a bill to amend some provisions of the country’s nationality law.[2] The proposal’s aim seems to be to increase the Cabinet’s power to revoke and remove the nationality of people convicted in cases related to terrorism or harming state security. The term “removing nationality” [isqat al-jinsiyya] pertains to persons who obtained nationality at birth and thereby possess “inherent nationality”, whereas the term “revoking nationality” [sahb al-jinsiyya] pertains to the “acquired nationality” of a person naturalized in one of the ways stipulated by law.

The Cabinet’s proposal adds a new  case to the instances in which nationality can be revoked as stipulated in Article 15 of the law.[3] This new case is “the issuance of a judicial ruling proving membership in any group, association, body, organization, gang, or entity, irrespective of its nature or legal or actual form, or whether it is based inside or outside the country, that aims to compromise the state’s public order or to undermine the social, economic, or political system by force or by any illicit means”. The proposal also increases the period wherein the Cabinet may revoke nationality from five years from the date of naturalization to ten years from this date.

Furthermore, in a clear expansion of the cases in which nationality can be removed, the proposal adds a new case to those mentioned in Article 16 of the law,[4] namely “conviction in a crime that harms national security from abroad or within”.

At first glance, proposal apparently aims to “purge” Egyptian nationality list of every terrorist or person who has harmed the country’s interests or security regardless of whether his or her nationality is by birth or acquired. Some MPs have previously demanded such a “purge”,[5] drawing on the current global trend of revoking nationality as a means of fighting terrorism. Russia recently issued a law to revoke nationality from persons convicted in terrorism cases,[6] and the French Parliament debated a similar proposal in 2016 before it was withdrawn by then-president François Hollande.[7] Egyptian citizens proud of their identity might welcome this proposal and see it as legitimate. However, a careful reading in light of earlier legislations pertaining to fighting terrorism, civil society organizations, and amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, raises questions about its potential usage as a tool to intimidate and remove opposition.

Beyond the context of “targeting terrorists”, the proposal includes amendments pertaining to people who obtain Egyptian nationality via their mothers. The proposal grants the Ministry of Interior a longer period to decide on nationality applications, and it includes amendments concerning children whose grandmother is Egyptian. Such an inclusion suggests that this nationality may still be considered an acquired nationality.

A Systematic Policy to Remove Opposition

The proposed amendments mentioned above constitute a new episode in the Egyptian government’s systematic policy to exclude its opponents and preserve its political interests using the legislative system. All the legislations issued recently in this regard contain imprecise phraseology that can easily be construed to convict the regime’s opponents. The phrase “crimes harming state security from within or abroad” used in this law can encompass many crimes levelled at the regime’s opponents. This absolves the authorities from openly charging its critics with political crimes. Hence, we believe that the use of this phrase as a basis for removing nationality aims primarily to further persecute and exclude the political opposition.

Since the official designation of the Muslim Brotherhood, following its overthrow, as a terrorist group on December 25, 2013,[8] the subsequent Egyptian government has been issuing new laws aimed at excluding its opponents from political life under the pretext of eliminating terrorism. For example, on September 21, 2014, the president issued a legislative amendment to Article 78 of the Penal Code that criminalized receiving money from abroad “with a view to harm a national interest or breach public peace”.[9] The use of terms that are not well-defined to criminalize this action was thought to be directed against the regime’s opponents among civil society organizations.

Under these same pretences, the anti-terrorism law was issued on August 15, 2015. This law punishes acts phrased very loosely – such as “breaching public order and endangering society’s safety, interests, or security” and “harming national unity, social peace, or national security” – with imprisonment or execution. Additionally, the legislator took the same approach in relation to NGO work. The law’s criminalization of activities of civil society organizations that compromise “national unity, national security, or public order” was thought to be aimed directly at the activists and workers in these organizations.[10]

When proposing any legislation to Parliament, especially pertaining to a basic right such as nationality, the government should use clear and precise phrasing. Should the bill pass as is, it will open the door for each judge's interpretations.

As for the revocation of nationality, it is currently permissible under Article 15 of the law in the case of conviction of crimes harming state security committed domestically or abroad. We therefore do not understand the value in expanding it to include “membership in any group … that aims to compromise the state’s public order”. This is especially true given that the matter concerned is acquired nationality, which the Cabinet has greater power to revoke anyway.

Removing Nationality and Double Punishment

This proposal raises an important question about the use of nationality as a tool to punish a person for a crime that they have already been punished for by a criminal court ruling. This conflicts with the principle that a person cannot be punished twice for the same crime, which is considered a human right[11], a principle of fair trial[12] by international law, and an established principle in Egyptian law.[13]

At first glance, some may not see removal or revocation of nationality as a punishment, but its consequences render it a harsh one. Additionally, the proposal does not distinguish between dual and single citizens, ignoring all the harm that could afflict a single citizen who loses his or her citizenship. This lack of distinction reflects the government’s exclusive focus on the direct consequences of its legislations and complete disregard for their international or long-term effects. When the nationality of an Egyptian citizen who is not a dual citizen is revoked, he or she becomes stateless.[14] Egypt has not signed the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the nationality law does not regulate the legal position of a person from whom nationality is removed in the state. [15] As a result, this person is stripped of all his or her identification papers and constitutional and legal rights.[16] The person enjoys no international protection and the Egyptian state has no obligations toward him or her.[17]

If such a person is arrested and imprisoned, how will he or she be treated? Does deprivation of nationality allow his or her rights to be violated with no deterrent?

Rendered stateless, the person is effectively punished a second time for the same offence. This contravenes international standards and conventions, as well as Egyptian legal principles, as we explained previously.

Moreover, the proposal reflects a clear change in the legislative policies related to removing nationality. In light of the wars and aggressions that Egypt was subject to, the Egyptian legislator had restricted the cases wherein citizenship can be removed to citizens who repudiated their loyalty to the country or were designated as Zionists. Meanwhile, the current proposal seems intent on linking Egyptian nationality to loyalty to the regime’s policy rather than the state. This is a dangerous turn in the state’s handling of its citizens, for it appears to be restricting national belonging to its supporters.

Egyptian Nationality via the Mother: An Acquired Nationality Despite the Constitution

In 2004, the Egyptian nationality law was amended to grant Egyptian women the right to pass their nationality on to their children.[18] Although the law stipulated that it was to be applied retroactively to children born before its issuance, it still considered nationality in this case to be an acquired nationality as the minister of interior could refuse to grant it.[19] The 2014 Constitution then enshrined women’s right to give nationality to their children as an inherent right.[20] However, the Cabinet’s proposal shows that the government still considers Egyptian nationality obtained by children born to Egyptian women before the amendment to be an acquired nationality, as its proposal increased the period after which the applicant is considered Egyptian from one year to two. This increase “legally” allows the Ministry of Interior to procrastinate and needlessly keep Egyptian citizens waiting for the papers affirming their nationality.

Additionally, the current law stipulates that if the son or daughter obtains nationality, their underage children automatically acquire it too. As for their adult children, to be able to obtain nationality they must follow the same procedures that the mother or father followed. However, the current proposal restricts the right to obtain nationality to only underage children, providing no justification for the restriction.

Perhaps this proposal reflects that the Egyptian government continues to treat the nationality that an Egyptian woman grants her children as an acquired nationality and not an inherent one as stipulated by the Constitution. While the amendments should have aimed to effectuate the constitutional text and facilitate the processes of obtaining nationality for the children of Egyptian women, the government is putting more obstacles in their path.


The government’s proposal to amend the nationality law raises serious questions about the consequences of the current regime’s legislative policy. In its present form, the proposal does not distinguish between single or dual nationals with regard to the legal effects of removing or revoking nationality. Adopting the proposal could therefore subject hundreds of people who have been convicted or are currently being tried in cases of “attacking state security from within or abroad” to the risk of statelessness,[21] in addition to violating their right to not receive double punishment. This attests to the government’s shortsightedness and its prioritization of its stated goal of fighting terrorism over all other legal or rights-related considerations.

The current proposal also opens the debate over anti-terrorism policy and the legislations issued to that end. We question the proposal’s usefulness for deterring terrorists: does belonging to a nation and having its nationality constitute an important enough need that the threat of removing or revoking it acts as a deterrent? Besides, enacting more legislations that violate human rights and undermine the rule of law is not the ideal solution for confronting terrorism.

We also question the “importation” of foreign laws without any consideration for the difference in circumstances. As we mentioned, Russia recently enacted a law to revoke nationality from naturalized persons should they be convicted in cases of terrorism, and the French Parliament debated a similar proposal last year. In Egypt, the present proposal (and the previous proposals by MPs) is being justified on the basis of these foreign laws with no regard for the fact that Russia limited this measure to naturalized persons and that France witnessed serious discussions about the need to make removal of nationality from persons with inherent or single citizenship a red line. Discussions presently occurring in Egypt do not take these differences into account. This suggests that the Egyptian authorities are following the Gulf states’ footsteps[22] in revoking nationality from their opponents, which increases the number of stateless persons in the Middle East.

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


[1] The news was published on the Prime Ministry’s website on September 20, 2017.
[2] Law no. 26 of 1975.
[3] Article 15 of Law no. 26 of 1975 (On Egyptian Nationality) stipulates that: Egyptian nationality may, via a reasoned decision by the Cabinet, be revoked from whoever acquired it by fraud or on the basis of false statements within ten years of his acquisition of it. It may also be revoked from whoever acquired it via naturalization or marriage, within five years of his acquisition of it in any of the following cases: 1 – He is sentenced in Egypt to a felony punishment or a custodial punishment in a crime that breaches honor. 2 – He is convicted of a crime that harms state security from abroad or within. 3 – He ceases residing in Egypt for two consecutive years without an excuse accepted by the minister of interior.
[4] Article 16 of Law no. 26 of 1975 (On Egyptian Nationality) stipulates that: Egyptian nationality may, via a reasoned decision by the Cabinet, be removed from whoever has it in any of the following cases: 1 – He obtains a foreign nationality contrary to Article 10. 2 – He agrees to enter the military service of a foreign state without prior authorization from the minister of war. 3 – He usually resides abroad and is convicted of a felony that harms state security from abroad. 4 – He accepts a job abroad with a foreign government or a foreign or international body and remains in it despite receiving a reasoned order from the Cabinet to leave it, provided that staying in this job could threaten the country’s higher interests. This [i.e. removal of nationality] occurs six months after the date he is notified of said order at his workplace abroad. 5 – He usually resides abroad and he joins a foreign body whose purposes include working to undermine the social or economic order of the state by force or any illicit means. 6 – He works for the benefit of a foreign state or government that is at war with Egypt or with which diplomatic relations have be severed, and in doing so could harm Egypt’s military, diplomatic, or economic position or compromise any other national interest. 7 – He is at any time characterized by Zionism.
[5] See Nura Fakhri, “Qanun Isqat al-Jinsiyya ‘an al-Irhabiyyin Ya’ud bi-l-Dawr al-Thalith li-In’iqad al-Barlaman”, Youm7 website, July 25, 2017.
[6] “Putin Signs Law to Strip Convicted Terrorists of Russian Citizenship”, RT website, July 31, 2017.
[7] “Francois Hollande Cancels Plan to Strip French Citizenship in Terrorism Cases”, New York Times, March 30, 2016.
[8] See “Bawwabat al-Ahram Tanshur al-Nass al-Kamil li-Qarar Majlis al-Wuzara’ bi-I’lan al-Ikhwan Jama’a Irhabiyya”, December 25, 2013.
[9] See Article 78 of the Penal Code.
[10] See Article 14 of Law no. 70 of 2017 (On Regulating the Work of Associations and other Institutions Operating in the Civil Realm).
[11] See, for example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulated in Article 14 that “7. No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country”.
[12] See, for example, the “Fair Trial Manual” published by Amnesty International in 2014, Section N (8) of the Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, or Article 19 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights.
[13] See the Egyptian Constitutional Court ruling issued on January 2, 1993, which stipulated that: The principle that a person may not be punished twice for one act is one of the principles that various legal systems have repeated and is considered a part of the fundamental rights that the international conventions guarantee every human being. Disregarding it violates personal freedom, the guarding of which is considered an essential guarantee of the individual’s humanity and right to life. This is because one crime does not carry two blames.
[14] The United Nations’ Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons stipulates in its first article that “the term ‘stateless person’ means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”.
[15] The convention was adopted on August 30, 1961.
[16] Such rights include the right to vote, form or join political parties, or run in presidential or parliamentary elections.
[17] The convention was adopted on September 28, 1954.
[18] Law no. 154 of 2004.
[19] See Article 3 of Law no. 154 of 2004 (On Amending Some Provisions of Law no. 26 of 1975 on Egyptian Nationality).
[20] Article 6 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution stipulates that “Nationality is a right of anyone born to an Egyptian father or Egyptian mother”.
[21] See “al-Jinsiyya wa-‘Adimu al-Jinsiyya fi Mintaqat al-Sharq al-Awsat wa-Shimal Afriqiya”, The Legal Agenda.
[22] See Anwar El-Rachid, “al-Jinsiyya wa-l-Mu’arada al-Siyasiyya fi Duwal al-Khalij”, The Legal Agenda, January 4, 2016; and Husain Abdulla, “The Former Bahrainis: Denaturalization as a Political Weapon”, The Legal Agenda, January 4, 2016 (published in English on February 18, 2016).

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