The Crémieux Decree of 1870 did more than endow Algerian Jews with French citizenship; it stripped them of their indignity, first under the law of colonial power and ultimately in the view of Algerian Muslim society, which remained indigène. Israel’s grant to citizenship to the Samaritan community in Nablus over a century later had much the same effect on the community’s place in Palestinian society. While the mass conferral of Russian citizenship in eastern Ukraine and the breakaway regions of other post-Soviet states has refamiliarized us with the concept of passportization, nowhere is the power of citizenship – or the various trappings of citizenship – to shape identities and power dynamics in contested spaces felt more acutely than in the modern Middle East and North Africa. This paper explores, from a legal and sociological perspective, the performative-constitutive uses of citizenship by national communities in the region pursuing self-determination in its various forms, as well as the role of citizenship in thwarting those national ambitions by dividing and disfiguring the ‘nation’.
International law is famously thin on questions of nationality. This is a double-edged sword. States in Russia’s orbit are vexed by the problem that passportization – as distinguished from the compulsory acquisition of an occupying power’s citizenship – does not obviously violate any accepted principle of international law. But for semi-recognised ‘virtual states’ such as Palestine and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic which claim diasporic populations as their citizenry, this legal lacuna is an opportunity: passportization may help legitimise the ‘virtual state’ as a home state or kin state endowing its putative citizens with rights and obligations, thereby restoring ties frayed by fragmentation and the passage of time, restoring a sense of political belonging, and reinforcing the collective’s claim for return. In other words, passportization may facilitate the internal dimensions of statehood even as the external dimension remain frustrated.
This paper builds on the concepts of liminality in contested state citizenship (Krasniqi, 2019) and citizenship constellations of contested states, recognised states, kin states, and patron states vying for the polity’s legal and emotional allegiance (Bauböck, 2010). In addition to the performative-constitutive potential of citizenship for Palestinians and Sahrawis, the paper examines situations in which the community exercising control over a contested space has refused, offered, or imposed its citizenship as a way of excluding, fragmenting, or assimilating dispossessed, native and minority communities.