Egypt has fallen under media scrutiny for the practice of denying citizenship to the children of foreign fathers, an especially harsh measure given widespread reports of Gulf Arab sex tourism under the guise of marriage.
According to a recent article by New York Times correspondent Neil MacFarquhar, children born to women who marry foreigners in Arab countries often “endure a painful awakening that they are not quite like other citizens.”
“In every country except for Tunisia, in fact, they are not considered citizens at all,” MacFarquhar recounts in his article “Egyptian Mothers Fight for Foreign Offspring’s Rights.”
The correspondent cites the case of Joseph Aladdin Huber, who first discovered his vulnerability at the age of 12, when he was ousted from a tennis tournament because of his father’s Austrian citizenship.
He also tackles the case of Iman Ahmed Wahid, a Syrian girl who was dismissed from school at age 12 because her father was Syrian. “Her formal education effectively ended that day,” notes MacFarquhar.
According to the New York Times writer, it is difficult to determine exactly how many women in any Arab country marry foreigners.
“In Egypt, the statistics range from the dubious official figure of 50,000 to 287,000 according to the Center for the Rights of Women,” says MacFarquhar’s article. “The number of Egyptian children believed affected ranges from 150,000 to nearly one million.”
Discrimination haunts the offspring of these marriages.
“Children of foreign fathers cannot go to public school here or state universities free, are barred from certain professional schools like medicine or engineering even if they are willing to pay, and cannot get jobs without residency and work permits for foreigners,” according to MacFarquhar.
Adding salt to the wound is the fact that, according to MacFarquhar, “Every summer hordes of older men descend on Egypt from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other rich Persian Gulf states, buy a young village girl as a bride for a few months, then abandon her pregnant.”
"There are brokers who the Saudi men go to and say, `I want a girl, I want her fat, I want her blond, I want her young,' " one source told MacFarquhar. "You end up with entire villages where many of the kids are not citizens."
MacFarqhuhar notes that “A number of regulations devised to thwart the practice, like requiring a bank deposit of more than $5,000 if the age difference between the two to be married is more than 25 years, are easily circumvented. Women's organizations say a whole network of sleazy lawyers prey on poor villages.”
Ironically, this type of temporary and opportunistic marriage is outlawed by the majority Sunni tradition of Muslims, which includes most Egyptians and Gulf Arabs.
“It is well established that temporary marriage does not agree with the interests of people because it causes loss to the offspring, uses women for fulfillment of the lusts of men, and belittles the value of a woman whom Allah has honored. So temporary marriage was forbidden,” reads a typical assessment of the practice by Nida’ul Islam magazine, a bilingual publication on intellectual thought.
On the topic of citizenship rights, MacFarqhuhar observes, “Proponents of change say religion might be neutral because there were no states at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. They point out that Muhammad had only daughters, so his descendants all arrived at their status through women. And Islamic tradition holds that on the Day of Judgment, the righteous will be summoned according to their mother's names.”
MacFarquhar states that there has been an upsurge of work by women's organizations across the Arab world, who are attempting to highlight the demand for sweeping new citizenship laws, arguing that the existing ones “discriminate against women and wreak untold damage on children.”
The writer points out that, while Middle Eastern countries have their own traditions that make them resistant to the change, “similar citizenship laws were overturned on the basis of discrimination in Western European countries only in the early 1980s.”
Opponents of extending citizenship to these children argue that Egypt, as a developing country with nearly 70 million people, cannot afford to suddenly add another million citizens, says the article.
So far, the opposition has thwarted efforts to change Egypt’s laws, although women’s groups are now submitting more legislation to parliament.
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )