Egyptian-Israeli couples: Victims of discrimination or security threats?

A self-described “beach boy” leading a quiet life in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Messawa has found himself at the center of a national debate due to one fact: he’s married to an Israeli. Like another estimated 30,000 Egyptian men across the nation, Messawa faces the possibility of being stripped of his Egyptian nationality after the Supreme Administrative Court upheld an earlier lower court ruling stating that Egyptian men married to Israeli Jewish women–along with their children–could forfeit their citizenship.
“I don’t care about the government and all that,” Messawa said curtly, unwilling to share details of his private life. “I live peacefully among my neighbors. I’m a quiet man. I don’t hurt anyone.”
His comments, though, are tinged with a hint of distress. According to a neighbor, Egyptian officials visited Messawa’s home early yesterday, requesting his official documents, briefly turning the simple beach home into something akin to a crime scene.
The higher court’s final–and irreversible–June 5 ruling is designed, according to Nabil el-Wahash, the lawyer who first raised the case, to protect Egypt’s national security and prevent a new generation of Egyptians “disloyal to Egypt and the Arab world.”
The case stems from the fact that, in Judaic tradition, religion is passed down through the mother, thus rendering Jewish all children born to Jewish mothers. Since, under Israeli state law, all Jews are eligible to become citizens of Israel–the self-proclaimed “Jewish state”–the offspring of Egyptian men married to Israeli women could theoretically apply for Israeli citizenship, which would oblige them to temporarily serve in the Israeli military. Seeing this as a potential conflict of interest, the Egyptian judiciary upheld the ruling to strip Egyptian men married to Jewish-Israeli women of their citizenship.
Human rights advocates, however, are calling the ruling discriminatory.
According to Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to a nationality” and “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” But the new law, said Heba Morayef, researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, violates the second provision by singling out a particular group of people.
“An entire group is being singled out,” she explained. “You may say, in the minds of the lawmakers, it’s about national security and preserving national identity, but that still doesn’t justify the discrimination.”
“The only way this could be done without violating their human rights would be if it were done on a case-by-case basis,” Morayef added. “For example, Mohamed, who is married to a Jewish woman, would be summoned for some kind of hearing, and clear evidence would have to be produced of the need to deprive him of his citizenship.”
Under Egypt’s citizenship law, three crimes can lead to the forfeiture of one’s citizenship: if he or she is found to pose a threat to national security; is guilty of treason; or if he or she is a Zionist, explained Hafez Abu Saeda, head of the Cairo-based Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. All cases involving the stripping of a citizen’s nationality are directed to the cabinet, which reviews cases on an individual basis, with the final decision left to the prime minister’s office.
“We accept that officials should follow the law, but we don’t accept the implication of the court ruling: that marriage [to an Israeli] is considered proof that a person is a Zionist,” said Abu Saeda. “Each case must be thoroughly investigated and affected individuals interrogated, in line with Egyptian law.”
Discrimination aside, critics of the law say it contains a number of loopholes, including, among other things, the question of Egyptian men marrying Jewish women not carrying Israeli passports. With Jews anywhere in the world eligible to become Israeli citizens, might a new law be enacted to strip the citizenship of all Egyptian men married to Jewish women, Israeli or otherwise?
While this remains highly unlikely, Egypt and Israel remain neighbors–officially at peace since 1979–so Israeli women are therefore set to remain a common factor in Egyptian-Jewish marriages.
“Egyptian men typically travel to Israel looking for work opportunities,” former Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Bassyouni told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “And they often get married in order to secure permission to live there.”
No doubt, most such couples never expected their love stories to end up in an Egyptian court. After exchanging wedding vows and pledging mutual loyalty, they could not have anticipated that they would one day have to fight to do the same for their country.

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