As Saudi Votes on Women's Citizenship Rights, Public Opposition is Louder

Published October 23rd, 2017 - 10:35 GMT
Tweets on the trending hashtag “no to the naturalization of the children of [female Saudi] citizens” were vehemently against any granting of citizenship to individuals in that situation (Wikimedia)
Tweets on the trending hashtag “no to the naturalization of the children of [female Saudi] citizens” were vehemently against any granting of citizenship to individuals in that situation (Wikimedia)
  • Women are prevented from passing on their nationality to their children in several Middle Eastern nations
  • While Saudi Arabia allows "naturalization" of children born to foreign fathers and Saudi mothers, it is only allowed under tight restrictions
  • A project to change the law is facing staunch opposition from ordinary Saudis
  • Many dismiss the rights of Saudi women married to foreigners, claiming they knew what they were getting into

 

In Saudi Arabia, being born to a parent who is a citizen offers no guarantee of gaining Saudi nationality.

Only men are automatically allowed to pass on their citizenship to their children in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

While the children of Saudi women can receive their nationality, they are faced with harsh restrictions.

According to the 60-year-old law, the individual must be a permanent resident when he or she turns 18, have no criminal convictions, speak Arabic well and apply within a year of reaching maturity.

That could soon change, however, as a draft amendment to Saudi's nationality law, which would see this discrepancy reduced, is currently waiting on a vote from the nation’s Shura Council.

One sponsor of the draft law on the council, Latifa al-Shaalan, told Saudi's Okaz that the proposal has long been under discussion.

While that might seem like a welcome breakthrough, a campaign against any change has gained momentum in the Gulf state.

Tweets on the trending hashtag “no to the naturalization of the children of [female Saudi] citizens” were vehemently against any granting of citizenship to individuals in that situation.

Saudis felt that a woman signed up to her children having only their father’s nationality when she married a foreigner.

She marries a foreigner and then makes work for us with her family. Why did you marry him to start with if you didn't like his nationality?

In fact, Nada Makki, a researcher on the impact of Lebanon's nationality law, told Reuters that many women were not aware prior to having children that they could not pass on their citizenship. It is likely that this is the case for many Saudi women too.

Another Saudi on Twitter, @maha2almaha, suggested Saudi wives of foreigners take their children to their husbands' countries instead. "The nation does not take up on itself the issue of women married to foreigners," she wrote.

For others, it was a matter of protecting the rights of Saudi citizens to jobs and resources, which they felt would be compromised by an influx of what they saw as foreigners’ children.

Among the damages created by naturalization are an increase in the burden on the state and a change in the demographics.

The situation in Saudi Arabia is not unique in the region, where children of Jordanian and Lebanese mothers rely entirely on their fathers for nationality.

Under these stricter laws, children are often forced to become foreigners in the nation they were born and raised in. Unable to access public health and education, they require work permits in their own country.

There are at least 56,000 children of Jordanian mothers who have received special non-citizen ID cards, according to Human Rights Watch. In Lebanon, 77,000 are affected, Reuters reported.

Particular problems arise where fathers are for some reason unable to pass on their own national belonging. Refugees from Gaza to Jordan, for instance, were not naturalized like their West Bank counterparts, meaning they can pass on neither Jordanian nor Palestinian citizenship.

For nearly two decades, campaigners in these nations have battled for a change to the system, with little result.

 

 

In Saudi Arabia meanwhile, Okaz reports that with progress having been made in recent weeks on a number of projects under discussion by the Shura Council there is renewed hope that changes might be made to the decades-old law.
 
Given the extent of public opposition, however, it seems unlikely to be a popular decision in Saudi Arabia.

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