Egypt’s decision to grant citizenship to the children of Palestinians married to Egyptian women is being hailed as a victory for women’s rights in Cairo -- and equally welcomed in Israel but for political reasons.
“We praise the decision by the minister of interior. This is a victory for human rights and especially for women’s rights because it gives them equality,” Nahed Shehada, the head of programs for the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, told The Media Line. RELATED:HRW: Egypt army sets new limits on free speech
Egyptian Interior Minister Maj.-Gen. Maj.-Gen. Mansour al-Issawi announced last week that Egypt would now bestow citizenship to the sons and daughters of Egyptian women married to Palestinians.
The move came following protests in Cairo by scores of Egyptian mothers
of Palestinians demanding that they not be singled out. An amendment to
the Egyptian Nationality Law in 2004 allowed Egyptian mothers married to
foreigners to pass on their citizenship. But legislators wrote the
amendment to exclude Palestinians, ostensibly out of deference to a
decision by the Arab League in 1957 urging Arab states not to grant
citizenship to Palestinians in order to protect their national identity.
“That was a mistaken decision of the Arab League,” Taisir Khaled, head
of the Palestinian Authority’s expatriate department, told The Media
Line. “This has no connection to their Palestinian rights or identity.”
Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have never granted
Palestinians citizenship. Only Jordan among the Arab countries has given
Palestinians full citizenship and they now are believed to make up the
bulk of the Jordanian population. Some estimates put the number of
Jordanians of Palestinian origin at 70%.
Millions of Diaspora Palestinians – their exact number if subject to
controversy – maintain no full peace can be achieved with Israel unless
they are allowed to return to their ancestral homes, a move Israel
rejects as demographic suicide.
“In Jordan the Palestinians have been given citizenship and none of them
have any doubt about their Palestinians rights,” Khaled said.
Khaled estimated that some 100,000 Palestinians live in Egypt, a nation
of 80 million. He said that their children had been suffering
discrimination for years, especially when it comes to their residence
papers and education expenses. “The new government [of Egypt] has made a
welcome step toward the Palestinians. This is a step forward for human
rights,” Khaled said.
It is estimated that 75,000 Palestinians moved to Egypt well before the
foundation of Israel in 1948. Among the most prominent who grew up there
were PLO leader Yasser Arafat and historian Edward Said.
Oroub El-Abed, author of the book Unprotected: Palestinians in Egypt
Since 1948, has documented the Palestinian experience in Egypt. She
wrote that “consistent denial of rights has eroded, not bolstered,
Palestinian identity. … Thousands of vulnerable young Palestinians are
‘illegal’ despite having been born in Egypt.”
“As third and fourth post-nakba generation, they have minimal knowledge
of Palestine or connection to traditional kin networks,” El-Abed wrote,
using the Arabic term for Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. “State
policies have left them in limbo, denying them both rights and
But Shehada of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights lauded the reform
terming it mainly a gender issue, one more step toward ensuring women’s
rights in Egypt, and not a Palestinian issue.
“Even if it were only one Palestinian it is still an important step,”
said Shehada, adding their organization was also pushing for citizenship
to be granted to foreign husbands of Egyptian women.
She added that under Egyptian law citizenship was automatically granted to women who marry Egyptian men.
The move comes as Egypt, currently under control of the military, has
been boosting its influence with the Palestinians. It successfully
brokered a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas that was
signed last week in Cairo, and is promising to open up its border with
the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Ties with Israel, never warm, have become more strained, with polls
showing a large majority of Egyptians favoring severing diplomatic
relations. Nevertheless, some Israelis saw the latest move in a positive
light. But one former Israeli Foreign Ministry officials hailed the
Egyptian decision on nationality.
“I welcome it. The more Palestinians who become Egyptian, the less they
will be trying to become Israeli,” Alan Baker, a former legal adviser
with the rank of ambassador at the ministry and now director of the
Institute for Contemporary Affairs, a pro-Israel think tank in
Jerusalem, told The Media Line.
“If the Egyptians are now going to give citizenship to these
Palestinians then that’s wonderful,” said Baker. “The more other
countries give their citizenship to the Palestinians the less of a
problem we will have.”
“The Egyptians are becoming more humane, so this may be one of the
indicatives of that,” Baker said. “They are giving the Palestinians as
much as they think that they can give them because they don’t want
responsibility of the Gaza Strip.”