Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 July 2004
Issue No. 697
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Citizens at last

The long-awaited, revised Egyptian Nationality Law has become a reality. Reem Leila reports

During parliament's closing session on Sunday, the new Egyptian Nationality Law was finally approved. The law allows Egyptian women married to foreigners -- regardless of their nationality -- to pass on their citizenship to their children. Up to one million individuals, representing 468,000 families will now be able to become Egyptian citizens.

The largest group of Egyptian women married to non-Egyptian men -- 33 per cent -- is married to Palestinians. While earlier drafts of the new law had leaned towards excluding this group from citizenship (using as a basis for that exclusion a 1957 Arab League resolution urging Arab states not to grant Palestinians citizenship in order to preserve the Palestinian identity), the law in its final form includes this group as well.

The drive to amend the nationality law began in September 2003, when President Hosni Mubarak announced the government's intentions in that regard during the first annual National Democratic Party conference. According to the old law, the wives and children of Egyptian men are automatically granted Egyptian citizenship, while Egyptian women married to foreigners were not able to pass their nationality on to their children. Responding to Mubarak's call, the justice minister established a high-level committee of experts, including representatives from both the Interior Ministry and the National Council for Women (NCW) to work on amending the law.

According to MP Zeinab Radwan, the new law states that those born prior to the law's passing will have to submit an official request to the interior minister to be considered for Egyptian nationality. Within a one year period, they will automatically be granted citizenship, she said.

There will, however, only be a one- year grace period to apply. According to El-Beshri El-Shorbagi, assistant to the minister of justice, people who do not apply within this year will forever lose their right to be Egyptians.

Nearly 2,300 individuals have been granted Egyptian nationality since last October. Until the law passed, the minister of interior had been given full authority by Mubarak to grant citizenship to deserving applicants.

"The number of applicants is expected to increase rapidly within the coming period," El-Shorbagi said, "as people will be afraid of losing that right."

The process involves submitting birth certificates belonging to the applicant's mother and father, in addition to the mother's identity card and marriage contract. "These documents help to prove that the mother's origins are Egyptian," El-Shorbagi said. The required paperwork also includes the applicant's birth certificate, his/her foreign passport, proof of their educational qualifications, four recent photos, and proof of a "clean" criminal record for those over 16 years of age. All applicants over 16 must also present documents proving they have been residing in Egypt for at least the past ten years.

The new law prohibits children of foreign fathers from joining either the Egyptian army or police, or obtaining certain governmental posts. Accordingly, laws regulating police (109/ 1971, 91/1975, 92/1975, 93/1975) and army (69/1980, 123/1981) institutions have been amended to match the new nationality law. According to Ahmed Diaaeddin, assistant to the minister of interior and head of the legal affairs department, the changes were expressly made "for national security reasons".

Granting Egyptian women the right to pass their nationality on to their children, said Cairo University law professor Fawziya Abdel-Sattar, a former chairwoman of parliament's legislative committee, is in accordance with Article 11 of the Egyptian Constitution, which grants equal rights and duties to all citizens.

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