Egypt to grant citizenship to kids of Palestinian dads

Move marks victory for human and women's rights, but deals possible blow to national identity.

By ARIEH O’SULLIVAN / THE MEDIA LINE
May 8, 2011 17:22
4 minute read.
Palestinian Flag

Palestinian Flag 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

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. 

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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 identity.”

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.”


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