Focused Discussions, Race & Society, Regional Studies

Citizenship, Class, and Inequality in the Middle East Working Group I


On May 6-7, 2018, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) hosted a working group on “Citizenship, Class, and Inequality in the Middle East.” During the course of two days, scholars were convened to discuss and critique their draft papers that covered a wide array of topics, including: passive and active citizenship in the Middle East; securitization of citizenship and sectarianism in the Gulf; political participation in the post-2011 constitutions; race, ethnicity, and citizenship in Sudan and South Sudan; the Iranian Diaspora and dual citizenship; Palestinian citizenship and non-citizenship; citizenship and the Sinai Bedouins; and national identity creation and Qatar Museum’s merchandise.

Roel Meijer commenced the working group discussion with his article on “Passive and Active Citizenship in the Middle East and North Africa in Modern History.” In his paper, Meijer analyzes the factors in Middle Eastern history that have determined the active and passive character of citizenship. The article focuses on the role of the state, and how the modern state has emerged and influenced the nature of citizenship in the Middle East. Meijer argues that the state has led to the emergence of passive citizenship as the citizen has been perceived by the state as an analytical tool, a category of control, and an object of policies. In other words, the citizen is created to pay taxes, serve in the army, spread universal education, and demonstrate loyalty to the state. The article concludes that since modernity demands greater interaction between subjects and the state, the larger the impact of the state on the people in the form of obligations, the greater the chances are that the citizens will also demand rights. 

James N. Sater shifted the working group discussion to “The Securitization of Citizenship and Sectarianism in the GCC.” In his paper, Sater develops a link between sectarianism and the quest for citizenship in the Gulf through focusing on four countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The author clarifies how and when sect-based graded citizenship has become a dominant feature of state-society relations in some of these countries, yet not in others. The paper builds on the concepts of extent, content, and depth of citizenship, and analyzes the case of non-citizen residents and their impact on citizenship evolution. Sater also examines the process of securitization of citizenship, through which sect-based citizenship demands have become polarized and through which the category of the non-citizen has become constructed and solidified. Sater asserts that the process of securitization is intimately linked to the strength of the regimes, which either allows them to securitize and avoid any demands for liberalization or brings them into an equilibrium with opposition movements that allows for liberalizing their citizenship regimes to become more inclusive.

Elizabeth Wanucha presented Gianluca Parolin’s article on “The Jinsiyya (citizenship) Obsession and the Muwatana (nationality) Veil: Political Participation in post-2011 Constitutions.” Parolin frames the increase in jinsiyya and muwatana provisions in the post-2011 West Asia and North Africa’s constitutional texts in light of the enforcement that these provisions have seen in recent years. He argues that the provisions on jinsiyya regulations and those involving single-jinsiyya requirements to hold public office seem to be in line with the liberal trend seen globally. However, the aforementioned provisions are contradicted by executive practices and by the very governance design, while the provisions emphasizing muwatana as the mode of the political system have been heavily profited from. In light of this, Parolin argues that the post-2011 constitutions have been devised to work “against” revolutions.  He examines this phenomenon by analyzing the constitution-making process in Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, and Tunisia, and how these processes were captured in the various contexts by certain political elites.

Amir Idris sharpened the discussion by presenting his article on “Race, Ethnicity, and Citizenship in Sudan and South Sudan.” In his paper, Idris argues that Sudan and South Sudan’s crises of citizenship are tied to the historical and political processes that led to the creation of ideas and narratives about racial and ethnic identities prior to the partition of South Sudan from Sudan. Idris problematizes sub-national racial and ethnic identities by examining the historical processes involved in their making. Idris argues that race and ethnicity were central to the colonial, nationalist, and postcolonial projects of inventing the “North” and the “South” as self-contained entities, and that the politicization of race and ethnicity after independence is largely a product of “Orientalizing” cultural differences through colonial administrative rules and postcolonial policies.

Amy Malek presented her article on “Hyphenated Citizens: Constraints of Dual Nationality in the Iranian Diaspora.” In her article, Malek offers three key areas in which, despite growing global trends towards non-exclusive forms of citizenship, the limits of multiple citizenships are felt by Iranian dual nationals in the diaspora, namely: renunciation, securitization, and patrilineal jus sanguinis. She argues that the case of Iranian dual nationals points to the ways in which individuals with multiple citizenships have not been able to access full rights equal to their compatriots. It also highlights how these individuals have also been targeted in their countries of citizenship and beyond in ways that reveal the constraints of geopolitics and power of states to limit flexible, strategic, and compensatory forms of citizenship.

Fateh Azzam shifted the discussion to “Overview of Palestinian (Non)Citizenship.” Azzam argues that Palestinians’ understanding of their own nationality is geographically and historically linked to Mandate-era Palestine, and has been largely inclusive and non-sectarian despite the creation of Israel and attempts by the Ottomans and the British to sub-divide the population into religious communities. However, Palestinians were never able to decide on, establish, and enjoy their own citizenship. Varieties of legal status have historically been imposed upon them by the Ottoman Empire, the international community, the egregious British Mandate, the Nakba and dispossession of 1948, the Israeli and Jordanian caveat, and the decisions of other Arab countries. Five overlapping legal statuses, with concomitant levels of rights, define Palestinians’ lives depending on where they live: stateless persons, refugees, citizens, permanent residents, and minorities. He concludes by suggesting that the recent recognition of the State of Palestine by the United Nations and a majority of states has opened new possibilities that have, as of yet, not been utilized for a variety of political and legal reasons.

Islam Hassan presented Mohannad Sabry’s article on “Informal Economy and Informal Citizenship in the Borderlands: The Case of the Sinai Bedouin.” Sabry argues that since the declaration of the Arab Republic of Egypt by the Free Officers in 1952, the indigenous population of the Sinai Peninsula gradually transformed from the proud Bedouins into the marginalized Bedoons of Egypt. He claims that despite the significant role the Sinai bedouins played during the 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of Sinai, the military has portrayed the Sinai bedouins as traitors to justify the unjustifiable military defeat of the Six Days War. He also asserts that the establishment of police stations, courts, and government departments in the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 failed to incorporate the local communities and the existing informal institutions, which contributed to the bitter relations between the Sinai bedouins and the state. Another chapter of the rather grim Sinai bedouins’ story, Sabry claims, is the 2013 anti-terrorism campaign in Sinai that displaced thousands of Sinai’s bedouins. Sabry concludes that as long as the state approaches the case of Sinai bedouins with the “tank and AK47” mentality, the issue of the Sinai bedouins will never be resolved.

Suzi Mirgani concluded the working group discussions with her article on “Enter through the Gift Shop: Signifying a Modern National Identity through Qatar Museums’ Merchandise.” In her article, Mirgani shows that something significant is taking place in Qatar Museums’ (QM) gift shops—a reformulation of the signifiers of national identity through contemporary commodities. She argues that while traditional gifts and handmade crafts remain prized and promoted, the introduction of modern museum merchandise is a sign that Qatar has entered into a new stage of national identity formation. She asks: if a souvenir attempts to offer a distillation of a nation’s culture, then how do modern museum merchandise—mobile phone covers, accessories, t-shirts—fit into Qatar’s new national narrative? Do these commercial artifacts problematize Qatar’s traditional historical narrative, or do they extend Qatari national identity into new directions—ones that oscillate around shared consumption practices that are no longer beholden to the past?

These research articles will be published in an edited collection by CIRS in the near future.



Participants and Discussants:

  • Fateh Azzam, American University in Beirut
  • Zahra Babar, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Islam Hassan, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Amir Idris, Fordham University
  • Mehran Kamrava, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Amy Malek, College of Charleston, South Carolina
  • Roel Meijer, Radboud University, Netherlands
  • Suzi Mirgani, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Mohannad Sabry, Independent Researcher & Journalist
  • James N. Sater, American University of Sharjah
  • Elizabeth Wanucha, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar


Article by Islam Hassan, Research Analyst at CIRS