Examining the Meaning of Citizenship in the Middle East
With a landmark election in our not-so-distant rearview mirror, many Americans have considered and are still considering what “citizenship” looks like, both in theory and practice. Rights and services, from voting to healthcare, are intimately linked to our status as citizens. At the Boston Consortium for Arab Region Studies (BCARS), this connection between citizenship status and access to basic rights and services has been our focus for the last several years, examining how deprivation of citizenship rights impacts millions across the Arab Region.
Graffiti in downtown Cairo
Citizens of MENA countries are increasingly excluded from exercising their basic human and civil rights, whether they remain in their national home or are seeking refuge outside their state borders. Among these are refugees and their compatriots who are internally displaced. Additionally, across much of the region, women are not permitted to confer their nationality to their children or foreign spouses, leaving many without access to employment, healthcare, and education. Compounding these issues is the double-edged sword of conflict and COVID-19, both exacerbating the myriad cascading challenges created by the deprivation of citizenship.
Examining this nexus between citizenship rights, migration, and human rights is BCARS’ current imperative. BCARS is an international forum where Arab Region scholars from Boston and MENA-based institutions can meet and work collaboratively to advance policy and research, strengthen a scholarly community, and mentor the next generation of policy analysts and scholars. Based at Northeastern University, BCARS, with the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, has harnessed the wealth of resources and expertise in our greater Boston community and teamed up with MENA-based experts to tease out the many ways citizenship status is integral to the experience of rights and access to services across the region where already, due to conflict, COVID, or corruption these basic rights are routinely challenged. Some key highlights of our collective research in this area include:
Fieldwork in Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt (forthcoming) that demonstrates the ways refugees, stateless persons, internally displaced persons, and Palestinians are routinely deprived of their citizenship rights. The politics of demography, corruption, racism, and gender discrimination all play a role.
Our reports “Citizens of Somewhere” produced in partnership with the Refugees in Towns project takes a closer look at these dynamics in Jordan, and “Undocumented in Lebanon: Gendered Challenges and Coping Strategies of Stateless Persons and Refugees in Tripoli” produced in partnership with the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Fletcher examines the Lebanese context.
Our BCARS Bulletins also zoom in on Jordan and Lebanon to explore how different NGOs in the Region are viewing and addressing these issues and how regional politics can complicate the question of citizenship.
BCARS Director, Denis Sullivan, presents his research at MIT
Members of our Executive Committee and Experts Network have also made valuable contributions through publications interrogating the connection between citizenship status, rights, and access to services.
Susan Akram and her team from the International Human Rights Clinic at Boston University have produced a spectacular report, “The Campaign to End Statelessness and Perfect Citizenship in Lebanon.”
Additionally, Fateh Azzam has examined the trajectory of Palestinian nationality and legal questions of citizenship for Palestinians and the Palestinian diaspora in “Palestinian (non)Citizenship,” a report for BCARS and further in The Middle East Journal.
Finally, Lillian Frost’s piece, “Women and Nationality in the Arab World” illuminates the ways in which citizenship is gendered and the far-reaching impacts of citizenship deprivation for women and their families.
This research highlights the ways citizenship status is intimately linked to access to rights and services in the Region and we believe that policy changes that combat the deprivation of citizenship rights are needed to address critical challenges of poverty, corruption, gender discrimination, gaps in education, and conflict.
If you are a researcher, practitioner, or belong to an institution that could contribute to our effort in shining a light on this important but often overlooked issue, we would love to hear from you. BCARS is continuing to build partnerships within and across the US (Boston area and beyond), the Arab Region, and Europe and we welcome the extensive expertise lying in wait on this multi-layered and complex topic.
About the Author:
Allyson Hawkins, Assistant Director, BCARS, holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, focusing on Human Security and Gender in the Middle East. Her research examines how refugees integrate into informal economies in Jordan and the gender dynamics of citizenship deprivation across the Middle East. She has conducted research for the Refugees in Towns and Financial Journeys of Refugees projects (Tufts/Fletcher) as well as for the German Government (GIZ) on digital solutions to refugee financial inclusion in Jordan. She has also worked for the Consortium for Gender, Security, and Human Rights (Boston), the Collateral Repair Project (Amman) and AMIDEAST (Tunis).