Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 November 2003
Issue No. 663
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Mother Egypt

Nearly 700 people with Egyptian mothers and foreign fathers have recently become Egyptian citizens. Reem Leila tries to find out how many more will benefit from a long-awaited amendment to the Egyptian Nationality Law

Over the past six weeks, approximately 6000 people with Egyptian mothers and non-Egyptian fathers have applied for Egyptian nationality. Of these, 669 have been granted citizenship, while another 400 should become Egyptians in the next few weeks.

The rush to apply for citizenship was prompted by the announcement -- made by President Hosni Mubarak at the National Democratic Party's (NDP) late September annual conference -- that the government was willing to amend the Nationality Law.

The current law stipulates that the wives and children of Egyptian men are automatically granted Egyptian nationality, while Egyptian women are not able to pass their nationality on to their children. In response to Mubarak's call, the justice minister established a high-level committee -- including legal experts and representatives from both the Interior Ministry and the National Council for Women (NCW) -- to work on amending the law.

The draft law being prepared by the committee will be shown to the NCW before it is officially submitted to the People's Assembly for their discussion and endorsement. According to committee member Maged El-Sherbini, a prominent lawyer, the main focus of the amendment will be on Article 3, which currently stipulates that anyone born to an Egyptian father is entitled to Egyptian citizenship. The new draft -- which is expected to be completed by next week -- will stipulate that anyone born to an Egyptian father or mother be granted Egyptian nationality.

Until the new law is in place, the interior minister has the final say on whether applicants will be accepted, as long as they are over 21 years old.

According to El-Sherbini, nearly 25 per cent of the 6000 applicants are Palestinians. Initial reports following the Interior Ministry's announcement that it would begin accepting applications, indicated that Palestinians would not be granted Egyptian citizenship, even if their mother were Egyptian.

The roots of the Palestinian exemption go back to 1959, when the Arab League decreed that Palestinians should not be given citizenship in other Arab countries, as a way of preserving their identity.

El-Sherbini said, however, "It is not true at all that Palestinians are excluded from the new law." The 40-year-old Arab League decree was just a recommendation, he said.

In any case, Mohamed Sobeih, the permanent secretary of the Palestinian Central Council and the Palestinian representative at the Arab League, submitted an official objection to the exemption to both the League and the Ministry of Justice.

Meanwhile, applicants from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon may have to wait a little longer than others, as security and background checks on these individuals tend to take longer. El- Sherbini also said that the process was much faster for applicants from the Gulf and North Africa.

Once the new law is in effect, those individuals born prior to its issuance will have a one-year grace period in which to apply for citizenship. "People who don't apply within this year will forever lose their right to be Egyptian," El-Sherbini said.

Some of the other details of the new law have also been revealed. Those who are granted citizenship will only be able to exercise their political rights five years after receiving it. They will not be able to run for election or be appointed to parliament for 10 years.

According to Mona Zulficar, deputy chairperson of the NCW's legislative committee, other than those two conditions, the new Egyptian Nationality Law will grant these new Egyptian citizens with the exact same rights as those whose parents are both Egyptians. "The new law will be in accordance with Article 11 of the Egyptian Constitution, which grants equal rights for all citizens," said Zulficar.

The application costs LE50. If nationality is granted, applicants must pay an additional LE1200. "I would have paid 10 times this amount of money just to get the Egyptian nationality," said Nora El-Gabry, a Jordanian student at Ain Shams University's Faculty Commerce. "There is nothing like being treated as an Egyptian citizen after being treated like a foreigner for years."

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