Egypt’s opposition wary about amending citizenship law

October 01, 2017
Basic right. An Egyptian man showing his passport. (Reuters)

Cairo- Human rights and politi­cal opposition activists expressed concern af­ter the Egyptian cabi­net proposed amend­ments to the citizenship law.

The amendments, if enacted, would allow the government to re­voke the citizenship of Egyptians proved to be members of any group or organisation that “aims to harm [the] public order of the state or undermine the social or economic situation,” the cabinet said.

The changes would require Egyp­tian nationals working abroad for a foreign government or interna­tional body to leave their posts im­mediately after receiving a cabinet order, waiving a six-month grace period in the current law.

There are fears the amendments would allow authorities to use the threat of revoking citizenship to si­lence criticism. “The amendments are disastrous at all levels,” said Nasser Amin, a member of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights.

“They violate all basic human rights because a man’s citizenship is a basic human right.”

There are also questions regard­ing the strengthening of regula­tions and restrictions regarding naturalised citizens.

Egypt’s Citizenship Law No. 26/1975 allows authorities to re­voke citizenship of naturalised citi­zens within five years of granting it. The proposed amendments extend the duration during which the gov­ernment can revoke the citizenship of naturalised citizens to ten years.

Critics said that specific clause was part of an Egyptian attempt to withdraw the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were granted Egyptian nationality during the June 2012-June 2013 rule of for­mer President Muhammad Morsi, who was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Those new citizens, advocates of the amendments said, are conspir­ing against Egypt’s national secu­rity to serve a Muslim Brotherhood agenda. Hamas, the Palestinian faction in charge of the Gaza Strip, is an offshoot of the Muslim Broth­erhood, which was designated a terrorist group by Cairo in Decem­ber 2013.

“They are living among us but do everything possible to cause harm to our country,” said Mohamed Aql, a member of the National Defence and Security Committee in the Egyptian parliament. “These for­mer Gazans can be found in Sinai, fighting the Egyptian Army with­in the ranks of the Islamic State (ISIS).”

The suggested amendments are to be debated in parliament and many analysts expect them to be approved.

Aql said many lawmakers sup­port the amendments because they would help protect Egypt at a time the country is facing numerous se­curity challenges, whether ISIS in Sinai, arms-smuggling and terror­ism across the border in Libya, or local Islamist terrorist groups such as Hasm.

Critics warn that protecting “na­tional security” is a justification that could see legitimate political opposition and human rights group silenced.

Nasser Amin of Egypt’s Na­tional Council for Human Rights warned that the amendments do not include language to explicitly provide protection to political op­position or human rights activ­ists, which means their citizenship could be at risk.

“This will be catastrophic be­cause, in this case, the law will be used by the government to take revenge on the opposition,” Amin said. “I expect this to happen, given the lack of basic freedoms and the government’s poor human rights record.”

Rights groups have accused Egypt of imprisoning political ac­tivists under the guise of protect­ing national security and fighting terrorism. Human rights groups have also accused authorities of being responsible for “enforced disappearances” of political oppo­sition activists. The government denied the allegations.

Even if the amended citizenship law is only used against convicted terrorists, questions remain as to whether it is necessary to protect national security.

“The government can easily use the Criminal Code to punish those who work against national secu­rity,” said Tarek el-Bishry, a consti­tutional law expert and the head of the committee that drafted Egypt’s 2011 constitution, “but to deprive people of their citizenship is actu­ally something that casts doubt on the real intentions of the govern­ment, which gives the opposition the right to feel afraid.”