Citizenship and Denizenship in Monarchies and Republics in MENA 2000-2020
Panel XI-13, 2023 Annual Meeting
On Sunday, November 5 at 8:30 am
The combined impact of war, political turmoil and increased demand for accountability in the wake of the 2011 Arab revolts has created wider variations in citizenship and denizenship between and within states in MENA. Citizenship is generally understood as a contractual relationship between rulers and ruled which defines and regulates civil, economic, and political rights. Whereas citizens and noncitizens are equally subject to various degrees of authoritarian rule throughout MENA, denizenship refers to modes of governance that contain and preserve exclusionary forms of belonging to the polity invariably based on gender, ethnicity, and religious communal belongings.
In hindsight, the 2011 revolts deepened what can be seen as a bifurcation of citizenship and denizenship in the region. In monarchies such as Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, women’s legal status in family law and protective measures against familial violence in criminal law have been strengthened after 2004. On a parallel track, the legal status and position of disfranchised citizens, noncitizens, refugees, and stateless persons are being re-negotiated, and forcefully settled with coercive means. Whilst conditions still apply that bond women and men to households and families, a digitized transformation is occurring in monarchies where rulers seek to centralise their power in conjunction with institutional reforms in exchange for various forms of concessions, including projects that strengthen women’s civil rights. Dissent on citizenship (muwatana) is discussed, albeit under contained state surveillance.
Meanwhile, in republics since 2003, people’s livelihoods have deteriorated dramatically by war, increased state violence, along with bread and electricity riots. Recurring opposition prevails among rulers against reforms that substantiate basic civil rights, particularly for female citizens, noncitizens and displaced persons. In Sudan, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and to a lesser extent in increasingly militarized security states such as Egypt and Algeria, rulers opt for divide-and-rule governance strategies reminiscent of modes of governance under the mandate and colonial periods.
Our comparative research on political and legal activism reflects varied forms of citizenship and denizenship in two monarchies –Morocco and Kuwait –, and two republics –Egypt and Yemen. Given authoritarian rule throughout the region since the turn of the millennium, our panel asks why a gap can be observed between expanded citizenship in monarchies and deepened denizenship in republics?
At critical junctures over the past two decades, rulers in monarchies have been more likely than rulers in republics to support change that expand female citizenship. In Morocco and Kuwait, paradigmatic reforms in 2004 enabled women to divorce. In 2005, Kuwaiti women were enfranchised, and in Morocco, the patriarchal nationality law was amended in 2007 allowing women to confer nationality to their children. Family courts were established in 2004 in Morocco, and in 2015 in Kuwait. Family courts introduced new administrative procedures that address vulnerable women’s financial and security needs. In 2018, Morocco legislated a first-time protection law against domestic violence, while Kuwait passed a similar law in 2020. Amidst the Covid 19 pandemic, Kuwaiti authorities appointed eight women judges for the first time.
What are the driving forces behind change that strengthen women’s de jure civil, political and economic rights in Morocco and Kuwait (as well as in Jordan and other Gulf monarchies) since the turn of the millennium? Notably, in comparison, MENA republics in the Levant and in the Gulf have experienced recurrent set-backs and violent upheavals when it comes to societal pressures that opt to expand female citizenship in family law, criminal law and nationality law.
Three factors shed light on the remarkable expansion of female citizenship in Morocco and Kuwait amidst strengthened authoritarian rule.
First, monarchies engage in state feminist projects envisioned by Helga Hernes who coined the term in 1987. She described the transformation of women’s dependence on a husband –the patriarch at home– to reliance on the state upon which women became financially dependent as salaried public employees, and as receivers of public services. The introduction of unilateral divorce for women in all MENA monarchies (except Oman) reflect women’s reliance on state power to ensure basic civic rights.
Second, monarchies are centralising their rule by decreeing soft power legal reforms, such as the introduction of family courts along with administrative measures that reorganise the dispersion of welfare.
Third, demos constellations of citizens, noncitizens and stateless persons impact reforms that target female citizens in Kuwait and the other Gulf monarchies. Expanding women’s legal capacity in state laws on a par with strengthened authoritarian rule can be seen as political concessions to female citizens that increase the legitimacy of monarchs and consolidate authoritarian rule.
Yemen is one of those republics that following the Arab uprisings of 2011 ended up in a bloody civil war that foreign powers, near and distant, have abused for their own purposes. Still, the decline of citizenship rights and a functioning state apparatus bear a longer durée. The Yemeni state was parsed together by two sovereign states in 1990. With the increasingly autocratic rule of President Ali Abdullah Salih, the happy unity ended in the first civil war in 1994. Since then, southerners have accused the northern state to take over and crush what used to be the rights, resources, and good practices of pre-1990 South Yemen. The post-1990 unification Yemen reveals various shades of accumulated forms of denizenship reflected in contracted and contained female agency in relation to male kin, as well as abrogated forms of belonging to the precarious Yemeni state in a region marked by the Saudi-Iran conflict, presence of Jihadist insurgency and the US War on Terror.
This development, I suggest, can be best observed by focusing on women’s legal rights as a declining state-citizenship relationship. I argue that the ups and downs experienced in women’s rights give a more nuanced analysis on how the state-citizenship relations have developed during the past decades than what a standard state-elite focus. This is not simply because “women matter” but since, in hindsight, the women’s movement in Yemen has based its agency on a very accurate analysis on the stakes in Yemeni politics. Thus, it has been able to use the available political alliances to deter further deterioration of civil rights and, occasionally, also gain small victories to women’s legal rights. My paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork in southern Yemen since the 1980s, and on document and media sources.
In 2021, Egypt's government put forward a comprehensive draft law of personal status for Muslims to the parliament for review. The draft law elicited considerable controversy concerning its substance. This episode was not a usual one in Egypt which has witnessed almost total repression of any form of dissent since the new regime headed by Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, took control in the country in 2013. These measures include an effort to curtail citizenship by contracting public space for NGOs, control over public and private media production, limitations on the freedom of assembly and expression, and the right to a fair trial. Despite growing spheres of denizenship in Egyptian society through the prosecution of oppositional forces, lawyers, and a shrinking space for civil society, political contention continues regarding Muslim personal status law. Furthermore, most stakeholders were dissatisfied with the proposed substance and demonstrated this publicly despite their various positions and stances. The draft subsequently disappeared from its online platform to complicate the puzzle further, although discussions continue.
A growing scholarly literature has focused on Muslim personal status law, its reform, public debate, and its adjudication in courts in the context of Egypt. This paper seeks to build on this literature while shifting the focus to contention surrounding the law, which occurs in the context of an otherwise sharply patrolled public sphere. Taking this dramatic episode as a point of departure, the paper poses the following questions: Which actors and institutions are involved in negotiating personal status law reform, and how do they contest or accommodate each other? How do the various stakeholders harness the legacy of Islamic shari'a to bolster their demands? The paper argues that Muslim personal status law remains a subject of contentious politics, although the opportunities for bargaining between state authorities and civil society activists have become severely hampered after 2013. Second, the paper argues that despite its authoritarian disposition, the Egyptian government closely scrutinizes public debates and responds to strong societal pressures. Although the paper focuses on the period after 2013, the discussion situates the ongoing attempts at personal status reform in the context of a century of Egyptian family law reform that culminated in a series of controversial reforms enacted in a top-down fashion during the 2000s. These reforms changed both the husband-wife and parent-child relationship considerably.