Palestinians started to seek refuge all over the world due to the Israeli war in 1948\1949. There were two main phases of refuge; first in 1948 (Nakba), and the other in 1967 (Naksa), when almost 15,500 refugees arrived in Egypt. 1
The scarcity of research on Palestinians in Egypt calls for a survey to determine the actual number of Palestinians living there and to know their location and socio-economic conditions. They are dispersed and forgotten, often living in poverty, with little attention paid to their needs and demands.
Anything related to the numbers or the conditions of Palestinians in Egypt is considered as a matter of national security, therefore information about them is very hard to obtain for fear of investigation by the Egyptian authorities.
According to UNRWA statistics, the number of Palestinian refugees has increased from 711,000 in 1950 to 4.7 million refugees in 2010, two thirds of them distributed to Arab countries including Egypt.2 Since UNRWA has no offices in Egypt, there is no accurate number or statistics about the Palestinian refugees in Egypt, however the approximate number is 50-70,000 refugees.
Egypt is considered as an exception compared to other Arab countries, as it has no camps for the Palestinian refugees. In 1948, there were only three camps for Palestinian refugees in Egypt, and these were evacuated a few years later.3 Despite the Egyptian policies of refusal to conduct any official census regarding the number of Palestinian refugees in Egypt, and the closure of the Palestinian camps, Gamal Abdel Nasser granted the Palestinian refugees some privileges and they were treated similarly to any Egyptian citizen.4
Palestinians as Foreigners in Egypt
After the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Palestinian refugees were treated as foreigners and were deprived of all privileges, including free education, residency, travelling and health insurance.
According to the Palestinian lawyer and human rights activist Fatma Ashour,5 from the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970 up to 2011, thousands of Palestinian families who resided in Egypt and carried an Egyptian travel document have suffered due to several issues.
They were deprived of free education and not allowed to enroll in government schools. Instead they had to pay large amounts of money for universities and private schools.
Palestinians who held an Egyptian travel document, which was unrecognized by many countries, were obliged to have visas for many countries to enter their territories. In addition, they were affected by the decision of Interior Minister Major General Majdi Abdel Ghaffar in 2017 to raise the renewal fees for the travel document from LE 170 to LE 1500. Travelers, or those who were residents abroad wishing to enter Egypt again, had to either return to Egypt every six months or provide the Egyptian authorities in advance with proof of their employment or enrolment at an educational institution abroad. In those cases, they were obliged to obtain a one-year return visa.
Palestinians could not benefit from humanitarian and development programs or receive treatment at the expense of the state, moreover, they were denied access to health insurance allowing them to receive treatment in government hospitals.
Palestinians wishing to work in any private business had to have an Egyptian partner of at least 51%.
Real estate and land ownership
A Palestinian could not own more than two buildings for private housing for himself and his family, the area of each property could not exceed four thousand square meters, while construction had to start within a period not exceeding the five years following the month of the act.
Marriage was either carried out by the judiciary or through the Ministry of Justice Foreigner’s Marriage Registration Office.
Egyptian nationality law
The first Egyptian nationality law, No. 26, was issued in 1956 and amended in 1975. Article 2 of law No. 26 stated that only the Egyptian father had the right to give his children Egyptian nationality, thus excluding the Egyptian mother.6
In 2004, Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, demanded the Egyptian Shura Council to amend the Egyptian Nationality Law No. 26 of 1975, article 2, to include the right of the Egyptian mother, who is married to a foreigner, to give her children Egyptian nationality.7
The amendment was approved in the case of children of the Egyptian mother married to a foreigner born July 15, 2004 and beyond. These children are Egyptian citizens by force of law; however, anyone born before July 2004 should apply for the Egyptian citizenship.
Following this amendment, the League of Arab States issued a recommendation to ban member states from granting their nationality to the Palestinians in order to preserve the Palestinian identity and to keep the issue alive in the minds of the citizens of Palestine, because if every state grants citizenship to the Palestinians, there will be no one to defend their issue. This recommendation was based on a sovereign decision issued by the Egyptian government. Accordingly, from 2004 until 2011, the Egyptian authorities did not accept any applications from any Palestinian refugees.
Struggle for Egyptian Nationality
Some of the Palestinians, who were born to Egyptian mothers, and resided in Egypt, launched lawsuits demanding their right to obtain Egyptian nationality in accordance with the Egyptian nationality law. Indeed, the court agreed to their appeal and granted them judicial decisions, but the Interior Ministry refused to implement these decisions. 8
In January 2011, a Facebook page was created called, “Egyptians by Law” “Masreyoun Behokm Alqanoun.” This page was set up by Palestinian youth who were born to Egyptian mothers and aimed to mobilize and lobby for this issue.
After the Egyptian revolution, in March 2011, many Egyptian mothers, in addition to their families, organized demonstrations demanding their right to grant their Palestinian children Egyptian nationality.
Mr. Adel Abdulrahman, Head of the Egyptian community in Gaza, a Palestinian born to an Egyptian mother, participated in organizing those demonstrations with the help of Maj. Gen. and former Assistant Minister of Interior Mr. Adel Afifi, Mr. Essam Sharaf, the former Egyptian prime minister, some media professionals, and human rights organizations.
According to Mr. Adel Afifi, he applied a memorandum to the former prime minister, Mr. Essam Sharaf, calling for not excluding Palestinians from the Egyptian Nationality Law.9
The Egyptian mothers and their Palestinian children implemented a sit-in in front of the Maspero television building, League of Arab State, and the Mogamma for one day.
Meanwhile, the Interior Minister said that the application of the Egyptian law for the Palestinian refugees violated the resolutions of the League of Arab States, which sought to preserve the Palestinian identity.
The families went to Dr. Essam Sharaf, former Prime Minister, in turn he told them that he could decide only after the decision of the League of Arab States, which recommended that “there is no objection to the naturalization of the Palestinians, while retaining their Palestinian nationality.”10
The families then demanded that the League of Arab States confirm that there was no objection to applying the Egyptian nationality law for the Palestinian refugees.
The League of Arab States denied the exemption of Palestinians from having Egyptian nationality; however the Palestinian refugees remained exempted.
The PLO, the Palestinian embassy, and the League of Arab States confirmed that there is no objection to applying the Egyptian nationality law for the Palestinian refugees who were born to Egyptian mothers.
According to Mr. Adel Abdulrahman, after several strenuous efforts and demonstrations, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces led by Marshal Tantawi approved the application of the nationality law for the Palestinian refugees.
On 10th of May 2011, thousands of applications were officially accepted at the Administration of Passport, Immigration, and Nationality, provided that the required conditions are met by law.11
The required conditions were:
Mother’s birth certificate
Grandfather’s birth certificate
Marriage contract of mother and father
Applicant’s birth certificate
Citizenship should be granted after the required documents and conditions had been completed and after a thorough security check, and in case of refusal, the applicant had the right to appeal within 60 days.
Following approval, the applicant was entitled to obtain full Egyptian identity card, birth certificate, and then he was entitled to obtain the Egyptian passport.
According to the Egyptian lawyer Mr. Mahmoud Al-Shafea, after the change of ministry, there was a slight change in the procedure for granting citizenship, which meant citizenship was to be granted after one year of applying with the force of law, if it was not refused. 12
After obtaining the citizenship, the Palestinian was to be treated such as any Egyptian citizen, with some exceptions. The right to exercise political rights was not granted until five years after the date of obtaining nationality, and election or appointment as a member of any parliamentary body was only after ten years of residence in Egypt. This was according to the articles of the Constitution, said the Palestinian lawyer Mr. Ghassan AlQishawi. 13
According to press reports in Alwaqae government newspaper, the Interior Minister said that from May 2011 to May 2014, about 24,000 applications were approved and 500 applications were rejected because of security reasons. However, some cases were appealed and were granted Egyptian citizenship.14
After President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, a committee was formed to examine the data of all Palestinians who had obtained Egyptian citizenship considering public security and national security, while the Ministry of Interior filed a memorandum to withdraw the Egyptian nationality from a large number of Palestinians.
In a press release, Major General Hussein Al-Raidi, Assistant Minister of Interior and Director of the Civil Administration, said that citizenship was withdrawn from a large number of Palestinians in accordance with article 16 of Law No. 124, which states that “a decision by the Council of Ministers may revoke Egyptian nationality for everyone who enjoys it in the following cases: if he lives outside Egypt and joined a foreign body whose purpose is to undermine the social or economic system of the state by force or by any means.” I believe that this applies to members of Hamas, yet, the result of political and criminal examination will determine, said Mr. Al-Raidi.”15
During the era of Abdel Fattah Sisi, following the events of June 30, and the media escalating tone of treachery and support of the Palestinians and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian authorities decided to withdraw the nationalities from some of those Palestinians who obtained it.
Following the revolution of 25 January to March 2015, figures and statistics of rejection of naturalization of Palestinians, reveal that the number of rejected decisions was 460. This included 79 which were issued in the period of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which lasted until 30 June 2013; 259 under Mohamed Morsi; 98 under former interim President Adli Mansour; and 24 under the current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi.
Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar, along with 12 members of his family, are the most prominent cases who were threatened with withdrawal of their Egyptian nationality. On April 30, 2012, Zahar said in an interview with the BBC that he had obtained Egyptian citizenship after the citizenship law was enacted and it was not withdrawn.16
According to the Egyptian lawyer and writer, Mr. Saleh Hasaballah17, the ministry of interior has the right to withdraw the Egyptian nationality by Law No. 124, article 16, which states that a decision by the Council of Ministers may revoke the Egyptian nationality for everyone who enjoys it in the following cases:
In case of fraud or based on false statements
If he is sentenced in Egypt to a felony or a penalty restricting freedom in an offense against honor
If he is convicted in a crime that is harmful to the security of the State from the outside or from the inside
If he has been not staying in Egypt for two consecutive years without an excuse accepted by the Minister of Interior
If he has entered a foreign nationality in violation of article 10
If he enters the military service of a foreign country without a prior license issued by the Minister of War.
If he resides abroad and joins a foreign body of its purposes to work to undermine the social or economic system of the state by force or by any illegal means.
If he works for the benefit of a foreign state or government which is at war with Egypt or has cut diplomatic relations with it.
Article 16 emphasizes the importance of justifying such decisions and determining their causes. Therefore, a person has the right to submit an appeal before the competent courts. However, if the reasons are clarified, the appeal can only be submitted if the reasons presented are unconvincing.
Mr. Saleh Hasaballah stressed that the reasons for revoking Egyptian nationality for the Palestinians are “political” because usually there are no criminal cases amongst those applying for the citizenship, stressing that the decision of refusal for security reasons must be accompanied by the existence of a previous criminal judgment such as “murder, drug trafficking, Honor “, in which case the Ministry of the Interior has the right to revoke the citizenship.
The issue of granting Egyptian citizenship to Palestinian refugees born to Egyptian mothers is still ongoing. A just resolution would be an important step towards strengthening the existing Egyptian-Palestinian bonds by facilitating many aspects of life for Palestinians in Egypt in particular, and around the world in general. In addition, it would be valuable for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who are besieged and deprived of freedom of travelling. Particularly during times of war, those with Egyptian nationality would be able to leave Gaza as Egyptian citizens.
* Laila Taha, a freelance Palestinian journalist and writer from Gaza, was born in UAE 1983 and lives now in the United Kingdom, studied Media and Translation at Al Azhar University of Gaza in 2003, worked for Rammattan News Agency, the New Arab Newspaper, and many local organizations in Gaza.
1 Unprotected: Palestinians in Egypt since 1948 / Oroub El-Abed, Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data https://prd-idrc.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/openebooks/443-7/index.html
5 Fatma Ashour, Member of Egyptian Bar Association, Member of the Union of Arab Advocates, Member of the Palestinian Bar Association, 2017, July 5, telephone interview
7 Mr. Adel Afifi, 2017, June 30, telephone interview
8 Mr. Adel Afifi, 2017, June 30, telephone interview
9 Mr. Adel Abdelrahman, 2017, June 25, telephone interview
10 Mr. Adel Afifi, 2017, June 30, telephone interview
11 Mr. Adel Abdelrahman, 2017, June 25, telephone interview
12 Mr. Mr. Mahmoud Al-Shafea, 2017, July 13, telephone interview
13 Mr. Ghassan AlQishawi, 2017, July 15, telephone interview
14 Mr. Adel Abdelrahman, 2017, June 25, telephone interview
17 Mr. Mr. Saleh Hasaballah, 2017, July 13, telephone interview