Rami G Khouri writes: If there is one fundamental relationship that is central to stable statehood and the wellbeing of entire populations in modern states, it is the relationship between the citizen and the state. These highest and the lowest, and biggest and smallest, levels of statehood need to be reasonably in sync with one another for relatively normal life to go on in any country, leading to social calm, economic progress, security for all and opportunities for individual men and women to develop to their full human potential. Not surprisingly, the citizen-state relationship has been widely distorted – in fact never fully established – across much of the modern Arab world, which is one reason why millions of citizens have been in revolt against their governments and ruling elites during the past two years. A good example of the unnatural state of citizen-state relations is the recent string of incidents in which some Arab governments have revoked the citizenships of some of their nationals, usually as punishment for political acts or even just for their political rhetoric.
For example, last month Bahrain revoked the nationality of 31 activists, citing them as a threat to “national security.” This included political leaders, such as Saeed Shehabi who lives in exile in London, and Jalal and Jawad Fairooz, two former MPs from the opposition Al-Wefaq party. As happens in all such cases, the government said its move was perfectly legal, as its citizenship law allows it to reconsider nationality if a Bahraini “damages national security” – a phrase that can be interpreted any way the government wishes.
A year ago, the United Arab Emirates revoked the citizenship of seven citizens who also happened to be members of Al-Islah, an Islamist group that is critical is government human rights policies. Some of them had signed a petition for an elected Parliament with executive powers.
Kuwait took similar measures two years ago when it revoked the citizenship of politician Yasser al-Habeeb, accusing him of abusing religious symbols and attempting to trigger sectarian tensions (he is a Shiite). The Cabinet made the decision at the recommendation of the Interior Minister, using available legal means.
These and other such cases across the region are extreme examples of dysfunctional citizen-state relations, which often reflect mutual contempt for the other by both sides, because they have never negotiated a sensible and equitable relationship that defines the use of state power for the wellbeing of all in society. [Continue reading…]