It should come as no surprise that, with the Camp David Peace Accord in effect, Egyptians go to Israel for business or pleasure. Once there, young men may marry Israeli women, have children, and more often than not settle down in Israel. But with such a strong tide in Egypt against the normalisation of relations with Israel before some peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians—in fact normalisation with Israel is almost taboo—the issue of Egyptians married to Israelis has become a hotly contested one.
No legal backing
Earlier this year Nabeeh al-Wahsh, a lawyer, filed a case against the government, demanding that Egyptian men married to Israeli women, who number an estimated 30,000 according to official statistics, should be stripped of their Egyptian citizenship. When the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) last May ruled in favour of their denaturalisation, the Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and the Interior Minister Habib al-Adly contested the ruling. Human rights activists supported the move and branded the SAC ruling as political. The ruling had no legal backing, they claimed, especially that Egyptian law allows dual citizenship and does not ban Egyptians from marrying individuals of other nationalities. But those who supported the ruling fear that Egyptian-Israeli marriages would open the door wide for Israeli infiltration into Egypt, a crime in the eyes of those who denounce normalisation.
Mr Wahsh referred to previous court rulings that banned individuals with dual citizenship from running for Parliament, on grounds that their loyalty to Egypt is marred. Furthermore, “Should we accept that Egyptian-Israeli children would one day crowd our children out of leadership posts in Egypt?” he questioned. He said marriage of Egyptians to Israeli women went against all forms of sharia (Islamic law).
The ultimate in normalisation
In the recent case, the court based its ruling on the legal reasoning that Egyptians married to Israelis are a threat to Egyptian national security, especially since their children would later have to join the Israeli army.
Tareq Fahmy, head of Israeli Studies at the National Centre for Middle East Studies, warned of the increasing numbers of Egyptians who now live in the Palestinians territories or in Israel. Dr Fahmy said that allowing Egyptian-Israelis into Egypt would lead to dual loyalty and espionage.
According to Mohamed Sayed Saïd, head of al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), Egyptian-Israeli marriages open the way for Israeli behavioural and political penetration into Egypt, “the ultimate in normalisation of relations”, he said. Given that Egyptian society strongly disapproves of normalisation, Dr Saïd said, Egyptian Israeli marriages would act as a destabilising force for the community in Egypt. Saïd warned that, with the economic woes in Egypt and what he termed the general lack of political and religious awareness among young people, mixed marriages may be on the rise. We should not wait, he said, for the number of such marriages to reach critical proportions, but should examine the reasons for the immigration of Egyptian youth to Israel, and attempt to reverse their course.
Blown out of proportion
For her part Farida al-Naqqash, editor in chief of al-Ahaly, the mouthpiece of the leftist Tagammu’ party, said she was against denaturalisation under any pretext. The Egyptian nationality, she said, is the basic right of all Egyptians. If we wish to dissuade Egyptians from marrying Israelis, Ms Naqqash said, we might as well offer them better job opportunities in Egypt instead of threatening to withdraw their Egyptian citizenship.
A government official who talked on condition of anonymity said that the issue was being exaggerated by those who disapprove of mixed marriages. Egyptian Constitution and law allow dual citizenship, he said.
Emad Gad, an Israeli affairs expert at ACPSS told Watani there were no accurate statistics on the number of Egyptians working in Israel, neither on their ages, academic qualifications, cultural backgrounds or occupation in Israel. “We thus have no real clue,” Dr Gad said, “as to the motives behind their immigration. We also lack accurate information on the number of Egyptians married to Israelis, all of which constitute essential data to realise the proportions of the ‘problem’”. The general climate in Egypt is dominated by hatred to Israel, he explained, leading to a set of prejudices concerning Egyptians working in Israel or marrying Israelis. The Arabs of Israel, who are the descendants of the Palestinians who were able to keep their lands after the 1948 war with Israel, are themselves widely condemned in Egypt as traitors and conspirators, an allegation which, according to Dr Gad, is thoroughly unfair.
A born-into right
Dr Gad explained that the majority of Israeli Arabs refuse to join Israeli army, a fact which led the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermann to question their loyalty and seek to expel them from Israel. Most Egyptians married to Israelis are married to Israeli Arab women who are not in the Israeli army.
And yet, Dr Gad explained, Egyptian law makes very clear provisions for Egyptians married to Israelis. The law stipulates that Egyptians married to Israeli women who had at any time served in the Israeli army should be denaturalised. Denaturalisation is also applicable to Egyptians married to Israelis who are ideologically Zionist. Otherwise, Dr Gad insisted, no one has the right to rob an Egyptian of his or her Egyptian nationality, which is a basic human right.
In his talk show al-Haqiqa (The Truth) on al-Mihwar satellite channel, Wael al-Ebrashy contacted Shukry al-Shazly, head of the Egyptians’ Union in Israel. Mr Shazly said that his work in tourism frequently took him to Israel where he married a Palestinian woman of the 1948 Arabs. He said he was forced to leave Egypt after encountering countless problems on his wife’s account, ranging from the official to the social. Since 1995 he has resided in Israel. Shazly denounced what he described as “Arab ignorance” concerning Israeli Arabs. He said he was alarmed at and ashamed of the recent SAC ruling. “Does no one in Egypt read International Law?” he asked. “No one has the right to strip an individual of his or her nationality. It is obvious that people in Egypt do not think in terms of human or personal rights.” When Ebrashy asked Shazly what he would do if he was ever denaturalised, the latter said he would take his case to international human rights organisations or to the international court. “If my country is not fair to me,” he said, “I would have to take my problem to international circles.”