Should Egypt deprive convicted terrorists of their citizenship?

Legal experts warned that the law could do more harm than good to Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts.
Sunday 15/04/2018
Egyptians walk past a mural with a caption in Arabic that reads “Terrorism has no religion.”  (AFP)
Fed up with insecurity. Egyptians walk past a mural with a caption in Arabic that reads “Terrorism has no religion.” (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt’s parliament is debating a bill, publicly supported by many MPs, that would strip convicted terrorists of their citizenship.

The bill, which is expected to soon be referred to parliament for voting, would strip the citizenship of anyone convicted of terrorist offences, including membership of outlawed groups and national security crimes.

“The bill is very important now that a large number of Egyptian nationals are working against their country’s national security,” said MP Mustafa Bakri, who proposed the bill. “If passed into law, the bill will deter a large number of the terrorists and those who harm this country by denying them a citizenship they do not deserve.”

Egypt has been escalating its fight against terrorist groups nationwide, especially in the Sinai Peninsula. The country has been hard hit by terrorism since mid-2013 when the army backed a popular uprising against Islamist President Muhammad Morsi.

Since then Cairo has been fighting terrorist groups with ties to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, such as Hasm, which has targeted officials and police.

Egypt has also been fighting a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sinai. ISIS has attacked Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, including striking churches in Cairo, Alexandria and the Sinai Peninsula, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

Egypt began Operation Sinai, a multi-force effort against suspected terrorists across the country, in February. Hundreds of suspected militants have since been arrested or killed.

Bakri said his legislation would strip the citizenship only of “terrorists” convicted of crimes that endanger national security.

“This means that it will be the courts that will have the final say in whether a person should be denied his citizenship,” Bakri said.

Last September, the Egyptian cabinet submitted a similar bill. That bill was merged with Bakri’s bill in committee.

The idea of stripping convicted terrorists of citizenship remains controversial but is being discussed more often in various capitals.

The United Kingdom and the United States have discussed stripping terrorists of citizenship. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2017 that the United Kingdom could strip terror suspects of their citizenship while abroad to bar them from returning to the country.

There is large support in Egypt’s legislature for the idea of stripping terrorists of their citizenship and the bill is expected to pass once it is advanced out of committee.

“The belief in parliament is that such a bill would push the fight against terrorism many steps forward,” said MP Abdel Moneim El-Olaimy, a member of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, which is to debate the bill.

“Many of those planning attacks will think twice before they stage these attacks when they know that they will not only be jailed but also deprived of the right to be Egyptian.”

The bill would effectively bar hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a terrorist group in December 2013, from returning to the country from exile. Many Muslim Brotherhood leaders left Egypt for Turkey, Qatar and Sudan following Morsi’s ouster. Many have been convicted of crimes in absentia.

There are fears the law could be used to silence Egypt’s legitimate political opposition, both at home and abroad. Some who are critical of the Egyptian regime and broadcast on TV channels outside Egypt are not indicted in cases of terrorism but could still be targeted should Bakri’s bill become law.

The way the measure is phrased, opponents said, gave credence to fears it could be used to gag the political opposition.

“Some of the articles of the bill are so loose that they can include anybody viewed by the government as constituting a danger to national security and public order,” said Khaled Dawoud, head of the opposition Constitution Party. “I think this phrasing is meant to deliver the message to everybody that terrorists and political opponents can easily be bundled together.”

Legal experts warned that the law could do more harm than good to Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts.

By stripping terrorists of their citizenship, Egypt could not demand the repatriation of terrorists captured abroad, losing potentially valuable sources of intelligence.

“When a country takes its citizenship back from somebody, this country cannot ask foreign governments to hand over this person if he is living in another country,” said Egyptian legal expert Shady Talaat. “This is why I say, if passed into law, the bill will harm Egypt’s anti-terrorism efforts because it will make Egypt lose the right to try a large number of people before its courts.”