Today Egypt’s supreme court approved a lower court’s decision to strip citizenship from Egyptian men if they are married to Israeli women. Currently there are an estimated 15,000-30,000 of such people, many of whom live in Israel. Under the new law, not only would their citizenship be revoked, but also that of their children. Furthermore, their children would be prevented from serving in the army in the future.
The lawyers bringing this case to the court argued that such a law would prevent the creation of a generation “disloyal to Egypt and the Arab world.” While the court has claimed that “each case should be investigated separately and with consideration to personal freedoms and the nation’s security,” the ruling particularly targets those married to Israelis who had served in the army (a high percentage) and those who had “embraced Zionism” – a purposefully vague description.
Meanwhile, Negad al-Borai, the lawyer for the defense, has rightly spoken out against this inexcusable ruling, pointing out that “Egyptian law says citizenship can only be revoked if the citizen is proven to be spying on his country, and this verdict considers marrying an Israeli an act of spying.”
Even though the case had been pending, the ruling could not come at a more unfortunate time for Israeli-Arab relations, which have taken another hit with Israel’s stubborn refusal to lift the blockade of Gaza and the IDF’s roguish tactics on board the Mavi Marmara, leading to the death of nine people. (I will dedicate a separate blog post to this story in the near future.) While Egypt’s government has had good relations with Israel and played its own role in the Gaza blockade by closing off its border with the territory since 2007, it is clear that Israel enjoys very little popular support among the majority of Egyptians. Continuing the Gaza blockade after the Mavi Marmara incident would have been an extremely politically risky move by the Egyptian government; and while the government officials of both countries maintain normalized political relations, this court decision is another sign of Egypt’s rulers not wishing to lose touch with popular opinion.
In truth, the ruling represents a convenient opportunity for Egypt’s government to realign itself back with the current of anti-Israeli opinion in the Middle East and take up the mantle of the Palestinian cause, in order to distance itself from the previously cooperative stance it took regarding the Gaza question. Now we see national security and the threat of espionage being invoked when a state legislates on marriage; yet all the while the country’s ruling classes maintain amiable relations with the supposed enemy. Because of this two-faced cynicism, the premises of the court’s decision only come across as all the more unjust and hollow.
Criticism directed at the Israeli state and its policies is a legitimate undertaking. But the current decision unfairly targets individuals and families for an action that can be quite detached from politics. Put differently, it is another troubling and unwelcome instance of ethno-national discrimination amounting to a legal form of collective punishment, quite similar to the collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza. It has the potential to ruin lives just so that the country’s leadership can maintain its place in power. And although the new law may temporarily satisfy the suspicions and anti-Israeli sentiments prevalent in much of the Arab world, it will ultimately only hinder any development of trust between Jews and Arabs in the region.