Stripping Egyptians of citizenship: a new punishment?

A protest outside the Interior Ministry building in Cairo on Dec. 8, 2013.

A protest outside the Interior Ministry building in Cairo on Dec. 8, 2013.

Based on available information, Hisham Mohammad Ahmed al-Tayeb is the first Egyptian to be stripped of his citizenship. According to a cabinet decree issued on Oct. 15, the decision was taken because of “his permanent residence outside the country and his links to a foreign body that works on destabilizing national security.”

Law 26 of 1975 gives the state the right to strip Egyptians of their citizenship “whether recently naturalized or of Egyptian parentage … at any time” if they are involved in “actions that threaten the country’s security.”

Journalist Ahmed al-Sawy questions why no information was released about Tayeb, either from the Interior Ministry that requested the penalty or the cabinet that authorized it.

“The published decree contained no details,” wrote Sawy. “What is the crime Tayeb committed to deserve having his nationality stripped? What is the name of the foreign body that works on destabilizing Egypt’s security?”

Sawy said even if this body is Mossad, there has not been one case when such action was taken against people found guilty of spying for Israel, and the same applies to terrorists.

“None of the terrorists convicted before civil or military courts were stripped of their nationality even with their threat reaching its peak in the 80s and 90s,” he wrote.

Sawy cited the examples of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mustafa Hamza, the mastermind of the plot to assassinate former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia.

Despite the limited information available about Tayeb and his alleged crime, the decision has stirred controversy, with many wondering if this punishment will be applied to more Egyptians.

Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said such a decision cannot be made without a court order. “If a person is acting suspiciously, then a trial should take place,” he said. “But it’s totally unacceptable to strip people of their nationality without giving clear reasons.”

Mohammad Zarea, head of the Arab Penal Reform Organization, agreed that a trial should precede such a decision, which in the case of Tayeb is administrative, not judicial.

Zarea added that stripping people of their citizenship “violates all universal charters” and is “a practice no longer applied anywhere around the world.”

He said this punishment can only be applied automatically if Egyptians obtain a foreign passport without permission from the Interior Ministry, as required by law. “However, there are many Egyptians who did this and were never stripped of their citizenship.”

Gamal Gibril, professor of constitutional law, said the judiciary is not authorized to strip citizenship. “However, the citizen whose nationality was stripped can file a lawsuit against the prime minister to contest the decision,” he said, adding that the state should announce the reasons for such a decision in order not to stir the public.

Ahmed Arafat, head of the Constitutional Reformation Committee at the City Council, said: “A new constitutional declaration has to be issued by the president” to make such a punishment constitutional.

There have been previous calls to strip members of terrorist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, of their citizenship.

“Those who conspire against their countries do not deserve to carry its passport,” said former MP Mohammad Abu Hamed. “If the constitution allows sentencing terrorists to death then surely stripping them of their nationality would not be a problem.”

Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, head of the Socialist Alliance Party and vice chairman of the National Council for Human Rights, said Brotherhood members can be stripped of their citizenship as a last resort if they continue to threaten Egypt’s security.

“The Netherlands has actually announced stripping members of terrorist and militant groups of Dutch nationality and this is a good step on the road to eliminating terrorism,” he said.

The Brotherhood denies having any connection with Tayeb, as claimed by some media outlets.

“Only fascist regimes would strip citizens of their nationality,” said Mohammad Gamal Heshmat, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood Council. “Yet we would expect anything from a regime that came to power through a coup and for this reason every decision it makes is null and void.”

Activist Karim Abdel Radi objected in principle to giving the state the right to strip people of their citizenship.

“The state does not have the right to strip citizens of their nationality because it did not bestow it upon them in the first place,” he said.

“If the state is allowed to make such decisions, then every citizen who belongs to the opposition would risk the same fate.”

 
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