Recently the Egyptian parliament proposed an amendment to Egypt’s citizenship law. The amendment allows those residing in Egypt for five years to apply for Egyptian citizenship after having deposited a significant sum of foreign currency in Egypt’s central bank. The sum may be returned to the applicant if the citizenship application is rejected.
Soon afterwards, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail corroborated the parliament’s intention to pass the bill by explaining that purchasing a citizenship is commonplace practice around the world.
This sparked a raging response on social and standard media. It was as though Prime Minister Ismail had forfeited Egypt’s honour by granting Egyptian citizenship to common criminals and traitors, tarnishing Egypt’s pride beyond repair.
As Egyptians went up in arms, the hashtag, #Egyptian_citizenship_not_for_sale went viral.
“Our citizenship is priceless,” “We don’t sell our citizenship,” “Be forewarned; such a law would not pass peacefully,” “How could you allow yourself to give away the Egyptian citizenship to he who killed our fasting sons?” assumed that the citizenship would be granted haphazardly and without rigorous scrutiny.
Standard media was no better. The headline of Magdi Rizk’s article in Al-Masry Al-Youm was: “Egyptian citizenship is not to be bought or sold.”
Wael El-Ibrashi, who presents the show 10PM, considered the act of selling Egyptian citizenship belittling and humiliating. El-Wafd’s electronic site published Talaat El-Maghawri’s article in which he said the government is willing to grant citizenship to just about anybody.
These are mere samples of the kerfuffle that followed the prime minister’s announcement.
Despite my belief that the bill will not pass since it has already created enough of a frenzy to throw dust in everyone’s eyes, I decided to investigate Prime Minister Ismail’s theory that purchasing a citizenship is commonplace practice. I found out that Prime Minister Ismail was quite right.
Many are willing to pay hefty sums to secure a safe haven for their families, while countries, on the other hand, are willing to sell citizenships in return for these substantial sums. Both buyer and seller are available and in agreement.
Immediate citizenship can be purchased for 2.5 million euros in Cyprus, and once you attain the Cypriot citizenship, you attain a EU passport that takes you all over Europe. The Antigua and Barbuda citizenship is sold for $250,000, the Dominica one for $100,000, and the Grenada citizenship for $250,000, all granted immediately.
Other countries require a qualifying period. Canada’s $800,000 citizenship comes after three years; Malta’s 1.15 million euro citizenship comes after a year. Those applying for Australian citizenship wait five years and pay a hefty $A5 million; New Zealand’s citizenship is attainable after five years and worth $A1.5 million.
The United Kingdom’s citizenship is worth £1 million after six years, while the United States is worth $500,000 after seven years. France is the costliest one of all: 10 million euros gets one French citizenship after five years.
Many more countries follow suit by offering citizenships, but you get the gist.
According to a BBC article, an expert on citizenship, Christian Kalin, says that every year several thousand people spend a collective $2 billion to enjoy a new passport.
It’s big business across the world, and yet in Egypt we find it offensive and belittling.
Similar to Egyptians, the citizens of these countries regard their countries with respect, and their citizenships with great esteem, and yet they are willing to have others purchase their citizenships. Why?
Citizenships are primarily offered in return for the huge sums of money associated with it, but there is more to it than that. By granting citizenships to outsiders, new blood, new ideas, and brand new investments emerge.
It is similar to why high league universities offer scholarships and grants to the best of best whether in athletics or academics. These incoming students, ecstatic for having been offered free schooling, bring with them new knowledge, innovative research, and exceptional skills. Much depends on the Zewails of the world.
Back to our original topic. In Egypt’s case, millions are already in Egypt as Egypt opens its arms to asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and other countries.
At the G-20 meeting in 2016, President El-Sisi said that Egypt is home to five million refugees and immigrants.
These immigrants, though free to live as they choose in Egypt, would gladly pay to become Egyptian citizens. Some may have lived in Egypt all their lives and yet never felt they were Egyptians.
Some would desire the Egyptian citizenship because they are tired of renewing their permanent residencies. Some may want to travel abroad for lengthy periods, but they realise that their residency may be annulled if they do so. Others may simply want to be treated as other Egyptians who are able to do any function with ease: do business, accept a work offer, or buy land and property.
More importantly, they may want to enjoy the stability and the security available in Egypt while raising their children in an Arab country or a Muslim one.
Even US citizens may go looking for citizenship elsewhere. The Canadian immigration website crashed during the US election vote. Worried about Donald Trump’s victory, many US citizens investigated the possibility of possessing the Canadian citizenship.
The same occurred in Ireland after Brexit. Many Britons were concerned that they would lose their EU citizenship after Brexit, so they wanted to pursue the Irish one. At that point Ireland asked Britons not to apply for the Irish passport because it couldn’t handle the sudden increase in demand.
I doubt the bill will pass, but if it were to pass, I’m sure beyond a shadow of a doubt the Egyptian citizenship would be granted only to those who deserve it and would respect it.
I’m sure, too, that the Egyptian authorities would be prudent and vigilant in their selections of whom they grant the Egyptian citizenship to. No, those who murdered the fasting soldiers will not be granted an Egyptian citizenship even for bags of money.
In fact, Prime Minister Ismail emphatically stated that attaining the Egyptian citizenship would follow stringent security measures, and the bank deposit would not in any way remove these conditions.
If the bill were to pass, it would be a win-win situation for Egypt and those who care to attain the Egyptian citizenship.
The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: the First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.