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Egypt’s multi-million-pound citizenship to foreigners: Who gets it?

Sonia Farid

Published: Updated:

On July 16, the Egyptian House of Representatives approved a bill submitted by the government to amend citizenship laws and on August 15, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified it.

According to the new law, foreign nationals who deposit seven million Egyptian pounds, or the equivalent in other currencies, get a five-year residency after which they apply for citizenship.

When the naturalization process is completed and citizenship is approved by the Ministry of Interior, the deposit is to be transferred to state treasury.

Law 26/1975, which was amended, stipulated a residency of 10 years before applying for citizenship and did not link granting citizenship to money. These two particular amendments are what rendered the new law quite controversial and raised a lot of questions about the purpose and the timing.

The controversy started within the House of Representatives as several MPs objected to the amendments. The most vocal was MP Haitham al-Hariri who said that the law basically offers Egyptian citizenship “for sale,” a term that was met with resentment on the part of several MPs as well as the parliament speaker.

In a following interview, Hariri said that the new law is only indicative of “a failing government that solves all its problems through selling.” Hariri argued that conditions in Egypt would not generally tempt people to seek its citizenship.

“This is a country whose youths are always looking for ways to leave. Egypt cannot be compared to European countries that attract immigrants and its citizenship is not tempting at all. Those seeking the Egyptian citizenship would most likely have security issues wherever they are. Do we want those here?” For Hariri, the law is just another desperate attempt at getting money without thinking of the consequences.

“It is exactly like complying with conditions imposed by the IMF, ones that are extremely unfair, in order to get a loan.” He also noted that selling the citizenship is in principle undignified as are other actions in which the state compromises the rights of it citizens. “The way the Renaissance Dam issue was handled is a perfect example of this approach in which the interests of the country are not a priority.”

MP Mohamed al-Sweidi noted that many countries have similar laws and that the amendments are in Egypt’s best interest.

“There are businessmen who already live in Egypt and have investments, but when they get the citizenship it will be an indication to the world and other investors that Egypt is safe,” he said, adding that this is bound to attract more investors. As for security concerns, also voiced by MP Moustafa Bakri who found the law too risky in the light of the war on terrorism, Sweidi argued that in case any of the naturalized citizens violate the law, the option of revoking the citizenship can always be used.

MP and head of the Defense and National Security Committee at the House of Representatives Kamal Amer agreed with the last point and added that the conditions stated in the law ensure that national security would not be compromised. “For example, recently naturalized citizens cannot vote except five years after obtaining the citizenship and can run only in municipal elections after five more years,” he said.

This, he added, does not apply to parliamentary and presidential elections. “These are regulated by a whole set of other laws as well as by the constitution,” he explained, most likely in reference to citizenship restrictions imposed on candidates for both elections, including not being a dual national.

While admitting that similar laws exist in other countries, journalists Moustafa Mohie and Rania al-Abd point out a number of considerable differences that are likely to make the new Egyptian law a failure.

“While the amount of LE7 million (approximately 334,000 euros) is comparable to the required investment in other states, in Egypt, the funds are transferred to the state treasury upon the approval of a naturalization request,” they wrote. “This means that the foreign applicant surrenders their entire deposit. In contrast, many other countries require an investment in real estate or a financial instrument that the applicant later retains as an asset.”

Mohie and al-Abd added that the law cannot be assessed in isolation from the benefits an Egyptian passport gives to its holder. “In terms of ease of travel, the Egyptian passport ranks low on the global scale,” they explained. “Egypt also ranks low on the international scale in terms of offering a business-friendly environment for wealthy investors. According to the Ease-of-Business Index developed by the World Bank, Spain ranks 28th, Portugal 29th, Cyprus 53rd, Greece 76th, Malta 84th and Dominica 98th. Egypt stands at 128 out of the 190 countries listed in the index.”

For Journalist Mohamed Hammad, the only people that are expected to benefit from the new law are Arab businessmen with refugee status who already reside in Egypt, which mainly applies to Syrians. “Syrian businessmen in Egypt have always been concerned about their status as refugees, which they believe puts their business at risk,” he wrote.

Hammad added that Syrians in Egypt are also burdened by a constant change in laws that affect them such as raising the annual cost of renewing their residency and imposing hefty fines on default payments. “This makes several Syrian businessmen keen on obtaining the Egyptian citizenship.

The Egyptian state, on the other hand, is also keen on keeping their investments inside the country.” Hammad also referred to an earlier proposal submitted by the Ministry of Trade and Industry to establish a 500,000 square meter industrial zone for Syrian investors.

It is noteworthy that Syrian businessmen in Egypt constitute 30% of the total number of businessmen who left Syria and their investments in Egypt are estimated at USD 800 million.