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Citizenship legislation in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Editor's Note: This article is the second part of an ongoing research project titled "Creating the Basis for Democracy in the Middle East: Conceptions of Citizenship in the Levant". The first portion of the research appeared in Arab Studies Quarterly, Volume 17, Numbers 1 and 2, Winter-Spring 1995, and was titled, "Jinsiyya versus Muwatana: The Question of Citizenship and the State in the Middle East - The Case of Israel, Jordan and Palestine." The research project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham. Dr. Davis works on the project with Prof. Tim Niblock.


In February 1973 Israel was rocked by the political trial of Daud Turki, Udi Adiv and Dan Vered, together with their comrades in the Red Front. The trial marked a milestone in the history of the democratic and anti-Zionist opposition in Israel. It transpired that the Red Front, a splinter offshoot of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen in the early 1970s) aimed to form a common anti-Zionist military resistance underground for Arabs and Jews inside Israel and link forces with the PLO resistance to Zionism and the Israeli occupation. Some thirty people, Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel, were brought to trial. In the course of the trial it became known that Udi Adiv traveled clandestinely to Damascus via Athens to meet PLO resistance leaders. The case - dubbed by the Hebrew press as the "Syrian spy ring trial" - was to become the most sensational political trial in Israel to date. Udi Adiv and Daud Turki were sentenced to seventeen years imprisonment each. Dan Vered received ten years. Israel and Syria were on the war path and later in the same year, the third Israeli-Arab war to rock the region, the October 1973 war, was launched as a successful joint Egyptian-Syrian attack against Israeli forces in the occupied Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights.

Twenty-one years later, where my friend and anti-Zionist militant Udi Adiv could only step clandestinely, I could walk legally. In November 1994, I was issued a visa on my British papers to visit Damascus in my capacity as Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham, to carry out fieldwork on Syrian citizenship legislation. To remove the slightest possibility of "misunderstanding" I made sure in the correspondence with the Syrian Embassy in London to explicitly register the fact that, though traveling on British papers, I was a dual citizen of Israel and Britain. I returned to Durham and in December of the same year I traveled to Tel Aviv. Israel and Syria are today on the path of peace negotiations. Unlike Udi Adiv, I was not arrested. It is my privilege and honor, however, to acknowledge Udi Adiv's pioneering contribution to the development of the common Arab-Hebrew struggle for equal rights and for the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These same values guide and inform this research project as well.

In these twenty-one years, the political geography of the Middle East has significantly changed. And in the context of these changes, the State of Israel has also changed. Three successive major regional wars represent important milestones in the process: the 1973 war (representing a joint Egyptian-Syrian initiative to break the international diplomatic deadlock of the Gunar Jarring UN mediation and force the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967); the 1982 Israeli invasion of the Lebanon (highlighting the failed attempt by Israel to eliminate the PLO out of the political equation of the area); and the 1990-91 Gulf war (confirming U.S. hegemony over the region and re-aligning the area in terms of the Middle East regional peace process launched in Madrid in October 1991).

Within a decade of the 1973 war the first peace treaty between Israel and a neighboring Arab state, the Egyptian Arab Republic, was signed. Within five years of the 1982 war Israel faced a protracted, mass Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, leading to the recognition of the PLO by Israel as the representative of the Palestinian people. And within five years of the 1991 war we are likely to witness the finalizing of peace treaties between the government of the State of Israel and the governments of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Lebanon.

As a critic of the current Middle East regional peace process, this writer is placed in a moral and a conceptual junction that could, perhaps, be best understood by way of an analogy to a young adult who came into a huge inheritance after the death of one or both parents. There is no question that a young adult who inherited a large fortune after the death of a parent could put the fortune to good application. But it is a moral, logical and emotional fallacy to conclude that because the inherited fortune could be put to good use by the beneficiary offspring, it is "a good thing" that the parent died.

There is no question that the current peace process between Israel and the neighboring Arab states is predicated, inter alia, on the defeat of my organization, the PLO. Like the death of a parent it is a tragedy for the Palestinian people that the PLO has been defeated, resulting in the hugely damaging Declaration of Principles on Self-government Arrangements (DOP) signed by Israel and the PLO in Washington DC in September 1993 and the Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area signed by the same parties in Cairo in May 1994. And like an inheritance, Israel's recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and the consequent Middle East peace process could be put to good application.

The Middle East after the Gulf war is as different from the Middle East before the Gulf war as Europe after World War II is different from Europe before World War II. It is indeed a "New Middle East."

Recognizing the positive prospects of a "New Middle East" does not entail and should not imply moral and political endorsement of most past wars in the region. And identifying in the current peace process between Israel and the neighboring Arab states opportunities for "good development" does not imply moral and political endorsement of Israeli criminal policy regarding the question of Palestine. Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, the DOP and the Cairo Agreement notwithstanding, remains totally negative in that it continues to rest on occupation, colonization and legal apartheid.

The ultimate irony of the current circumstance could well be that the peace currently forged between the Government of Israel and the governments of the neighboring Arab states will unite them in a coalition of war against the Palestinian people. It is at the flashpoint of this emerging anti-Palestinian "peace" coalition that new alliances in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people will emerge. These alliances will, broadly speaking, fall-into two classes: one, an alliance based on political Islam; second, an alliance based on the principles of universal human rights, first and foremost the right of every man and woman to citizenship.

This work, as all of my work, is dedicated to inform the emergence of this second alliance. We are united in membership in the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Middle East is in many ways truly our region. We have, as scholars and intellectuals, personal responsibility to our region, and within this responsibility it is our duty to make the best contribution we can to assure that the "New Middle East" becomes a better place for its citizens. It is the author's contention that an examination of the question of citizenship and the state in the Middle East is a useful and illuminating conceptual vehicle to negotiate the question of how to make the "New Middle East" a better place for all the peoples of the region.

The fieldwork for the study of citizen legislation in the Syrian Arab Republic was carried out during my first visit to the country in November 1994. Having visited Syria and completed my fieldwork, I took back with me to the United Kingdom an unresolved question. How is it that a state with relatively progressive and enlightened legislation gave birth to the current authoritarian regime of the Socialist Arab Ba'th Party?

I am not sure about the answer but I am aided by my interview with Sadiq al-Azm, who pointed out that what the Constitution says can make a material difference in determining the politics of any state. The fact that the Syrian Arab Republic is constitutionally a Parliamentary democracy could have identifiable implications regarding its future. For instance, however hard President Hafiz al-Asad may attempt to establish a ruling Asad dynasty in Syria, he is likely to fail, largely because Syria has been formally established as a constitutional republic, not like the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan which is constitutionally a "parliamentary dynastic monarchy". It is therefore nearly impossible in Syria to legitimize a dynastic regime. When democratic political changes in Syria bring down the authoritarian Ba'th regime, the fact that there exists in Syria a functioning constitutional Parliament will make a huge and positive difference toward the success of replacing the current rule with a democratic alternative.


The Syrian Republic was founded in 1943 two years after the occupation of Syria by Allied forces (British, Commonwealth and Free French Forces) in 1941. Elections held in 1943 resulted in the victory of the National Bloc and the appointment of Shukri al-Quwatli as its first elected President. The last French soldiers left Syrian Republic territory in April 1946, which is regarded as the year of Syrian independence. A constitutional amendment allowed al-Quwatli to be re-elected to office following the victory of the National Bloc in the 1947 elections.

Syria's short lived civilian order came to an end in March 1949 when Colonel Husni al-Za'im overthrew the Quwatli government in a bloodless military coup. In August of the same year al-Za'im was overthrown by Colonel Sami Hinnawi in a second coup, supported by the People's Party. Hashim Atasi became President, but he, in turn, was overthrown four months later by a third coup led by Colonel Adib Shishakli. In February 1954 Shishakli was overthrown by a military coup.

Elections in 1954 restored Atasi as President. He was succeeded by al-Quwatli in 1955 who in 1958 led Syria to the union with Egypt, the United Arab Republic (UAR) under the Presidency of Gamal Abdul Nasser. In September 1961 a coup led by Syrian army officers in league with civilians nullified the union and re-established Syria as a sovereign and independent state, now renamed the Syrian Arab Republic with Nazim Qudsi as President. In March 1963 supporters of the Ba'th Socialist Party in the army seized power, followed by the October 1964 Ba'th coup, the February 1966 Ba'th coup, and the November 1970 coup led by Colonel Hafiz al-Asad, who deposed Colonel Salah Jadid. Al-Asad was sworn in as President in March 1971. He maintains his rule to date.

The current Syrian Constitution (150 Articles) was ratified in 1973 (previous constitutions were those of 1930, 1950, 1953, and the 1961 and 1964 provisional constitutions). The constitution defines the "Syrian Arab Republic" as a democratic, popular and socialist state (Article 1.1.); the "Arab Syrian region" - as part of the Arab homeland (Article 1.2); the "people" of the Arab Syrian region - as part of the Arab nation (umma) (Article 1.3); the "regime" (nizam al-hukm) - as republican (Article 2.1); sovereignty (siyada) is vested with the people (Article 2.2); the religion of the President of the Republic - as Muslim (Article 3.1); Muslim jurisprudence - as a primary source of legislation (Article 3.2),(1) Arabic - as official language (Article 4); Damascus - as the Capital (Article 5); the Socialist Arab Ba'th Party - is the leading party in society and the State heading a "progressive patriotic front committed to the unification of the strengths of the masses of the people in the service of the objects of the Arab nation" (Article 8).

"Popular organizations" and the "cooperative societies" are defined as organizations incorporating the working forces of the people with the view to develop society and realize the interests of its individual members (Article 9); the "People's Council" (Parliament) - as the democratically elected institution through which the citizens exercise their rights of administration of the state and leadership of society; and finally the "state" - as an instrument in the service of the people and its institutions committed to the defense of the basic rights of the citizens, the development of their lives and the support of the popular organization (Article 12).

The Constitution defines the "economy of the State" as a planned socialist economy aiming to abolish all forms of exploitation (Article 13) and stipulates three forms of ownership: "Popular ownership" (natural resources, public services and nationalized installations and institutions), "collective ownership" (owned by cooperative societies, professional associations and popular organizations) and "individual ownership" (private property which can be confiscated for public good only through legislation and against just compensation) (Articles 14 and 15).

Education and culture aim to raise a "scientifically thinking, socialist, national Arab generation" rooted in their history and their land, confident of its heritage and saturated with the spirit of the struggle for the realization of the aims of its [Arab] nation [including] unity and freedom and socialism, partake in the service of humanity and [contribute] to its Progress" (Article 21).

The Constitution protects the personal rights of the citizens and defends their dignity and their security; determines that the rule of law is a fundamental principle of society and the state; stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law in their rights and their obligations and guarantees to secure the principle of equal opportunity for all citizens (Article 25).

All citizens have the right to partake in political, economic, social and cultural life (under the law) and exercise their rights and enjoy their freedoms (under the law) (Articles 26 and 27).

All accused are deemed innocent until and unless convicted by ratified court sentence; no interrogation or detention is allowed except under the law; no physical torture, or mental torture or humiliating action is allowed and the law will determine the penalties of anyone guilty of such actions; the right of adjudication and the procedure of appeal and defense before the court is protected by law; there is no crime or punishment other than in the text of the law; legislation cannot apply retroactively (unless explicitly otherwise legislated) (Articles 28-30).

Homes are protected and entry for search is prohibited (except in circumstances determined by law); confidentiality of mail and telegraph communications is protected (except in circumstances determined by law) (Articles 31 and 32).

Expulsion of a citizen from the territory of the homeland is prohibited and the right of freedom of movement is guaranteed (unless otherwise ordered by court or decreed by regulations for reasons of health and the general security) (Article 33).

Political refugees seeking asylum for reasons of political principles or defense of freedom will not be extradited (Article 34).

Freedom of religious belief is protected and the state will respect all religions and secure freedom of religious practices (provided they do not violate the public order) (Articles 35).

Every citizen has the right to freedom of public expression, orally or in writing or in all other means of expression and to participate in review, criticism and construction such as will secure the well-being of the national and patriotic structures and support the socialist regime. The State guarantees freedom of the press, printing and publication under the law (Article 38).

Citizens are guaranteed the right of freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration in the framework of the principles of the Constitution and the law is to determine the application of this right (Article 39)

The protection of patriotic unity and the guarding of the secrets of the State are the duties of all citizens. (Article 42)

Citizenship of the Syrian Arab Republic will be determined by law, which will guarantee special assistance to Syrian Arab emigres and their children as well as to citizens of the regions of the Arab homeland (Article 43).


Syrian citizenship legislation has its juridical origin in the Ottoman Citizenship Law of 1869. Following the San Remo Conference of April 1920, Syria became a French Mandate territory approved by the League of Nations in July 1922. Under Article 30 of the Treaty of Lausanne of July 1923 signed by the Allied Powers and Turkey:

Turkish subjects habitually resident in territory which in accordance with the provisions of the present Treaty is detached from Turkey will become, ipso facto, in the conditions laid down by the local law, nationals of the State to which such territory is transferred (Section II, Nationality, Article 30).(2)

In August 1924 the French High Commissioner issued order No. 2825 stipulating that any person who was a Turkish subject and a resident in the territory of the Syrian Region on 30 August 1924 was to be regarded as a Syrian citizen and would thereby have lost his Turkish citizenship (Article 1).(3) This order was followed by Order No. 16 of January 1925 stipulating that the citizens of the union of Syrian states and the Alawite territories and Jabal Druz had only one citizenship, namely, Syrian citizenship (Article 1); Citizenship Law No. 98 of May 1951; Citizenship Law No. 21 of February 1953 (amended by Law No. 492 of February 1956); Citizenship Law of the United Arab Republic No. 82 of July 1958; Citizenship Law of the Syrian Arab Republic No. 67 of October 1961; and the current Citizenship Law No. 276 of November 1969 which is based on Article 43 of the provisional Syrian constitution (incorporated also as Article 43 in the 1973 Syrian Constitution) stipulating (as noted above) that Article 1 of the 1969 Citizenship Law renders the following definitions:

The region the Syrian Arab region;

Citizenship citizenship of the Syrian Arab Republic;

The Ministry Ministry of Interior;

Legally competent every person who has reached the age of majority (18 years of age) in [full] exercise of his mental faculties and who has not been declared legally incompetent;

Syrian Arab a person who has Arab Syrian citizenship;

Mughtarib (Emigre citizen) any person who is originally descended from an Arab country and who is not a resident of an Arab state and does not carry the citizenship of an Arab state;

Foreigner Any person who does not carry the citizenship of the Syrian Arab Republic or the citizenship of any other Arab country;

Naturalized citizen A person who obtained the citizenship of the Syrian Arab Republic under the stipulation of this law or under the stipulations of previous citizenship laws.


The 1969 Citizenship Law states that any person is a Syrian Arab citizen who was a citizen of the Syrian Arab Republic under the stipulations of the Citizenship Law No. 68 of 31 October 1961 (Article 2).

Syrian Arab citizenship is transmitted primarily by "law of blood" (jus sanguinis) through patrilinial descent, namely, any person born to a Syrian Arab father inside or outside Syrian territory is a Syrian citizen (Article 3.1). The citizenship of the children follows that of their father, unless otherwise explicitly stipulated in the Law (Article 30).

The acquisition of Syrian Arab citizenship by matrilinial descent is allowed to persons born to a Syrian Arab mother whose father cannot be legally determined (Article 3.2). Syrian Arab citizenship can also be obtained in certain circumstances by "law of soil" (jus soli), namely, place of birth on Syria territory, in that any person born in Syria to unknown parents or parents of unknown citizenship is regarded in this Law as a foundling (laqit) and as having been born in Syrian territory (unless otherwise proven) (Article 3.3) and any person born on Syrian territory and who is not entitled to a foreign citizenship by descent is regarded as a Syrian Arab (Article 3.4).(4)


Under Syrian Arab citizenship legislation, the application of a foreigner to naturalize into Syrian Arab citizenship must be submitted in writing and requires a "recommendation" (iqtirah) by the Minister of Interior as well as separate legislation in each case, subject to application in writing and on the condition that the applicant has the full exercise of his mental faculties and was not declared legally incompetent (Article 4.1); resident in the country for at least five continuous years prior to the submission of his application (Article 4.2); in good health (Article 4.3); of good reputation and without criminal record (Article 4.4); of employable skills or independent means (Article 4.5); fluent in Arabic reading and writing [Fluent speech is not legally required,] (Article 4.6).

It is important to point out that the naturalized Syrian citizen enjoys all rights and is subject to all duties and responsibilities stipulated by the Constitution on an equal footing with native Syrians from the date of his or her naturalization.(5)

The application of naturalization of an Arab applicant (which must also be submitted in writing) requires a "decision" at the discretion of the Minister of Interior (separate individual legislation is not required). Like the foreigner, the Arab applicant is required to be in full exercise of his mental faculties and not declared legally incompetent (Article 16.1). The Arab applicant must have (at the time of application) citizenship of another Arab state (Article 16.2).(6) Whereas the Arab applicant needs to be habitually resident in the country at the time of application, unlike the foreigner, there is no requirement for a set number of years of residence in the country prior to the submission of an application (Article 16.3)

In this regard, Syrian Arab legislation is clearly more akin to Israeli Zionist legislation than to Jordanian Hashemite Legislation. Whereas Jordanian Citizenship law places greater obstacles before the non-Jordanian Arab who may wish to naturalize into Jordanian citizenship than before a non-Jordanian non-Arab ("foreigner" - see below), Syrian legislation takes the opposite view.


Syrian legislation comes even closer to its Israeli counterpart with the stipulation of exceptional naturalization. Although Israel has no Constitution, it is defined in its Basic Laws (e.g. Basic Law: the Knesset, 1958 (amended 1985) and Basic Law: Human Dignity, 1992) as "the State of the Jewish People" and as "a Jewish and democratic state". And although the Syrian Arab Republic's Constitution of 1969 defines the state as "socialist, popular and democratic state", its citizenship law comes close to the Israeli idea of citizenship "by return" in stipulating in Article 6 of the Law that the Minister of Interior may, at his discretion, wave any or all the conditions of naturalization listed in Article 4 of the Law if the applicant was a Syrian emigre and has a certificate of an emigre citizen (Article 6.1); performed distinguished service to the State or the Arab nation (Article 6.2); was of Arab origin and could give convincing reasons to the Minister of Interior (Article 6.3)

Thus Syrian legislation, informed by the Ba'th ideological version of "Arab unity" follows a line of juridical logic that brings it close to Israeli legislator, informed by the Zionist ideological version of the "Jewish people". The former aims to bring back into Syrian citizenship any person who originally (no matter how many generations back) was affiliated with an Arab country (Article 6.3, above), including, presumably, persons who are Syrian in their origins and who have lost their Syrian citizenship under the same law because they were naturalized into foreign citizenship abroad (Articles 10 and 21). The latter aims to bring back into Israeli citizenship any person throughout the world who is recognized by the State as a "Jew" (Law of Return, 1950 and Citizenship Law, 1952).

But here the affinity ends. Syrian legislation has not gone as far as Israeli legislation in facilitating the right of citizenship "by return." In the case of Syrian Arab citizenship, each individual application by an "emigre citizen" requires a separate decree at the discretion of the Minister of Interior. In the Israeli case, any person recognized by the State as "Jewish" has the right to Israeli citizenship. The Israeli Minister of Interior has discretion to deny citizenship "by return" only to applicants engaged in activities directed against the Jewish people, or who are likely to endanger public health or the security of the State.

Also, unlike its Israeli counterpart, Syrian legislation, not being motivated by colonial settlement interests, did not create two types of Syrian Arab citizenship, one inferior and one superior, through the introduction of the legal vehicle of "exceptional naturalization". Israeli legislation, on the other hand, utilized the legal vehicle of "exceptional naturalization" "by return" to constitute a two-tier apartheid citizenship structure inside Israel. One, inferior Jinsiyya ("passport citizenship") for the Palestinian (non-Jewish) citizens of Israel and, second, superior Muwatana. ("democratic citizenship") for those citizens recognized by the State as Jews.

As Aziz Shukri pointed out, the concept of emigre citizen was absent from Syrian legislation until the unification of Syria and Egypt in the United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958. Following unification it seems that UAR legislation aimed to make the citizenship of the United Arab Republic the core for a paradigm of a single Arab citizenship for any person who was affiliated to the Arab nation, regardless of distance in time and of absence of current citizenship of any Arab state. The UAR introduced the innovation of "emigre citizen" as the instrument for Arab emigres to obtain UAR citizenship and to distinguish them from foreigners applying for citizenship.(7)

UAR Citizenship Law No. 82 of 1958 defined as an "emigre citizen" any person "who is affiliated to the Arab nation and who is not [ordinarily] resident in an Arab state and who does not carry the citizenship of any Arab state" (Article 7). The Law further states that:

The Minister of Interior may decide to grant (an emigre) citizen a certificate to that effect [testifying to his emigre citizen status] subject to an application to be submitted to the consideration of the Committee for Emigre Citizens. The President of the [United Arab] Republic will promulgate the establishment of this Committee.(8)

Article 8 of the Law of 1958 determined that UAR Consulates abroad will maintain records of persons granted Certificates of Emigre Citizens; Article 9 granted the holders of these Certificates the right of entry into the UAR (presumably on a foreign passport) without obtaining an entry visa; the right of residence in the UAR; the right to work in the UAR; and the enjoyment of other rights as determined by the President of the Republic. And finally, Article 11 stipulates the right of any person carrying the Certificate of Emigre Citizen to apply for the citizenship of the UAR which may be granted by decision of the President of the Republic.(9)

Current Syrian legislation, Citizenship Law No. 276 of 1969, retains the concept of "emigre citizen" and stipulates that the regulations relevant to the issue of the Certificate of Emigre Citizen be issued by the Minister of Interior in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Article 25). These were promulgated as Decree No. 576 of 5 October 1970, re-affirming the right of the holder of the said Certificate to apply for Syrian Arab citizenship under Article 6.1 of the current Law (granting the Minister of Interior the right to waive the conditions of naturalization listed in Article 4).

Thus Syrian legislation has given expression to the national (qawmi) desire to draw those emigres who have lost their connection to the homeland and assist their return to the political and legal fold of the Arab nation (umma) by way of regaining citizenship of one its regions.

But as Aziz Shukri points out, it is the same law, the current citizenship law of 1969, which determines that the Syrian Arab citizen who has emigrated permanently to a non-Arab country and whose absence from Syria exceeded three years, and who has been sent formal caution and has not replied within three months or whose reply has not been satisfactory will be divested of his citizenship by decree (Article 21.7). The current legislation "denies with its left hand what it grants with its right hand, which is a cause for great criticism."(10)

The same person who was denied Syrian citizenship under Articles 10.1 and 27.7 may regain it under Article 6.1 or 6.3, and, perhaps, on more favorable terms. The current legislation leads to the absurdity in that the Law allows a foreigner, as well as a Syrian emigre citizen, who is naturalized into Syrian Arab citizenship to retain their previous foreign citizenship, while compelling a citizen of the Syrian Arab Republic who married a foreign citizen who emigrated abroad and was naturalized into a foreign citizenship to lose his citizenship.


Palestinian affairs are regulated in the Syrian Arab Republic under Law No. 260 of 10 July 1957:

Article 1. Palestinians residing in the territory of the Republic of Syria on the date of the promulgation of this Law shall be considered as Syrians by origin regarding all provisions in the Laws and Regulations in force concerning employment, work, business and military service without prejudice to their original nationality;

Article 2. Any provisions [in the law] incompatible with the above shall herewith be abolished;

Article 3. The Ministers of the State are responsible for the implementation of this Law. (Based on translation by Aziz Shukri)

In other words, Palestinian refugees in Syria have all the duties and responsibilities of a Syrian Arab Citizen - but none of the political rights. Technically, Palestinian residence in the Syrian Arab Republic is temporary.(11)

According to A Gh,(12) like Syrian Arab citizens, and unlike citizens of other Arab states, Palestinians do not require work permits; are subject to compulsory military service (in Jaysh al-Tahrir al-Filastini under Syrian army command); have equal opportunities in government employment; and are free to apply to all openings of government posts. Palestinian residents of the Syrian Arab Republic travel on a Syrian laissez-passer(13) which (like full Syrian Passports) are valid for six years.

Yet, in violation of the above legislation, all interviewees in Damascus confirmed(14) that there are administrative and political restrictions on Palestinian property holdings. Interviewees reported that in the first two decades after 1948 there was an administrative directive prohibiting Palestinians from purchasing any property in Syria. This prohibition has been lifted, but restrictions on Palestinian property ownership remain, notably, one house per person and no farming land holdings (exceptional permits may be issued by Decree of the Minister of Interior in individual cases).

Palestinian affairs in the Syrian Arab Republic are sometimes segregated. In the District of Damascus, all Palestinian affairs are concentrated in the Office of Palestinian Affairs in Ein Karsh, al-Nasr al-Abyad, headed by Abu Zarad. In all other Districts (e.g. Homs, Aleppo, Hamma) Palestinians get their travel documents from the same offices of the Ministry of Interior as Syrian Arab citizens, with the important exception of registration of births. The registration and the issue of birth certificates for Palestinians is carried out by the office of Palestinian Affairs (headed by Abu Zarad above) which has separate District offices in all Districts of the state.

In the presentation of Citizenship Law No. 276, 1969, before the People's Council, the Minister of Interior outlined the considerations underpinning various Amendments relating to the previous law No. 67, 1961, including the amendment pertaining to the naturalization of an Arab applicant:

Pursuant to the resolutions of the Arab Economic Unity Council regarding freedom of movement and immigration to other Arab countries for the purpose of work and the facilitation of travel and movement, it was deemed appropriate to exclude the sons of other Arab countries from the definition of "foreigners" and grant them the following privileges and waivers in order to distinguish them from foreigners and with the view to implement the supreme national aims:

Regarding naturalization:

1. Grant of citizenship [to the Arab applicant] by resolution of the Minister of Interior, instead of by Decree (marsum);

2. Waiver of any condition for a period of [uninterrupted] residence, and [instead] stipulation of habitual residence in Syrian territory at the time of application;

3. Waiver of the condition that the applicant demonstrate a specialization or a qualification or that he show means of livelihood or property that would release him from the need of support by others;

4. Grant of the right to naturalize into Syrian Arab Citizenship to the minor children [of the Arab applicant] even when their regular residence is abroad.(15)

As Aziz Shukri correctly observes, Syrian legislation (Article 16.2) stipulates that the Arab applicant must demonstrate his right to the citizenship of an Arab country (including an occupied Arab country), not necessarily carry a valid passport of an independent Arab state. Prima-facie, the stipulation, therefore applies to the Palestinian refugees in Syria.(16) Yet, rather than do precisely this, namely grant Syrian citizenship to all Palestinian refugees in Syria under the stipulation of the Syrian Arab Citizenship Law, 1969, the Syrian Arab Republic opted, for political and ideological considerations not to permit the naturalization of the Palestinian refugees. Instead, Syrian policy regarding Palestinian refugees is expressed as:

Respecting their Palestinian citizenship together with granting them the right to enjoy all the rights enjoyed by Syrian [citizens].(17)

No matter that since 1948 there has been no such thing as Palestinian citizenship.



Compared to Jordan, the Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic and its citizenship legislation are closer to the standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, weaknesses and inconsistencies notwithstanding.

Under Jordanian citizenship legislation it takes twelve years before a naturalized Jordanian can take public office (political, diplomatic or bureaucratic as defined by the Government). Likewise for twelve years after naturalization a naturalized Jordanian is prohibited from running as a candidate for election in the House of Representatives. (Article 14)

Furthermore a foreigner may apply for naturalization as a Jordanian citizen after 4 years of ordinary residence in the country (Article 12), while an Arab may apply for Jordanian citizenship only after 15 years of continuous residence and may obtain Jordanian citizenship only by a Resolution of the Cabinet (Majlis al-Wuzara) on the basis of the recommendation (Tansib) of the Minister of Interior on the condition that he renounce his original citizenship in writing and on condition that the laws of his country of origin allow this (Article 15).

Syrian legislation is much superior on this matter. A naturalized Syrian has all the rights of a native Syrian from the date of his or her naturalization, and there are absolutely no restrictions on his employment or candidacy for any public or Government office, elected or otherwise.


On the question of the Palestinians, it could be said that at least in one important respect Jordanian legislation is superior to that of Syria. As outlined above, Palestinian refugees resident in Syria are treated "like Syrian Arab citizens" - but are denied the right, granted under Syrian Citizenship law to all persons of Arab origin, to naturalize into Syrian Arab citizenship on privileged terms. The denial is rationalized in the name of Syrian solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people. In Jordan, on the other hand, or more precisely, in Transjordan since fakk al-Irtibat(18) of 1988, all Palestinians registered as resident in Transjordan are Jordanian citizens on equal footing with native Jordanian citizens.

However well one may be treated as a stateless person by the government of a host country, statelessness entails fundamental vulnerabilities notably the denial of the right of abode.(19) Maintaining the refugee Palestinian population in the status of statelessness for half a century in the name of Arab solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people against the Zionist occupation of their homeland adds insult to injury.

It is firmly the view of this writer that citizenship is a universal human right, and that the denying Palestinian refugees the right to naturalize into the citizenship of their host Arab countries - a right granted in Syrian citizenship legislation to all other Arabs - is a blatant violation of this basic human right. Furthermore, there is no reason to assume that the naturalization of the Palestinians in their host Arab countries would adversely impinge on the future of the Palestinian struggle to regain their internationally recognized rights in their homeland, Palestine. Palestinian naturalization in their host European and North American countries, for instance, has not adversely impinged on their struggle. Some of the most effective advocates of the cause of Palestine are Palestinians who are Canadian, American and European citizens.

And finally, given Palestinian history since 1948, protection from deportation is of critical importance. From this point of view, it may be worthwhile to reconsider conventional Arab attitudes toward the terms of naturalization (tawtin) of Palestinians in their host countries - hitherto regarded with great hostility by all members the League of Arab States.

The current peace process places Palestinians in Syria in a serious predicament In Jordan they are citizens. In Syria they are like citizens. If and when Israel and Syria sign a peace treaty, and if the current regional peace process results in the establishment of an independent State of Palestine in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - the Palestinians in Syria will face a double bind.

Syria and Jordan are bound by the Agreement of 5 April 1954 on "Provisions Regarding Citizenship Among Member States of the League of Arab States." The signatories to this Agreement (Jordan, Syria Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen), carrying out their obligations under Article 2 of the Pact of the League of Arab States, agreed to adopt the Provisions formulated by of the Council of the League of Arab States at its 21st ordinary session (5 April 1954).

After determining in Article 1 that "for the purpose of the Provision of this Agreement any person who is a citizen of a Member State is considered to be an Arab," the Agreement stipulates in Article 6:

The naturalization of a citizen of any Member State of the League of Arab States in another Member State is not permitted except with the express agreement of his Government in which case his previous citizenship will be nullified after obtaining his new citizenship.

Further, Article 8 states:

Any person who has more than one citizenship of a Member State of the League of Arab States has the right to chose any one of them during the first two years following the coming into force of the Agreement, and in the event that he failed to make a choice during this period of two years it will be judged that he has chosen to take the citizenship obtained latest.

The rhetoric of "Arab unity" notwithstanding, the Regulations adopted by in the 5 April 1954 Agreement, and those member states who subsequently joined this Agreement, have chosen to prohibit dual or multiple Arab-Arab citizenship.

Assuming that upon the admission of an independent State of Palestine as a member state to the UN, the refugee status of the Palestinians in the Arab host countries would be abolished. And in the event that an independent and sovereign State of Palestine is established consequent to the DOP and the Cairo Agreement, the Palestinian refugees in Syria will be compelled to take either Palestinian citizenship (the citizenship of their homeland) or Syrian citizenship (naturalize into the citizenship of the country of their residence). They will be unable to maintain their current refugee status.

In other words, should the Palestinians in Syria opt to take Palestinian citizenship, they would thereby become foreigners in Syria, thus losing, for instance, their equal access to employment opportunities in Syria "like Syrian citizens." Should they opt for tawtin, namely, for naturalizing into Syrian citizenship, they would be denied, under the current League of Arab States Provision above, the right of abode as citizens in their homeland.

The same predicament would face the Palestinian citizens of Jordan in that the Palestinian citizenship would entail loss of Jordanian citizenship, namely, loss of their right to live in Transjordan.

The obvious solution, both the obvious political solution and the obvious legal and humanitarian solution, is the solution of dual or multiple Arab-Arab citizenship whereby all Palestinians in Syria and Jordan would be offered the choice of either single citizenship (either Syrian or Palestinian, Jordanian or Palestinian) or dual citizenship (Syrian and Palestinian citizenships, Jordanian and Palestinian citizenships). It would then be possible for the League of Arab States to exercise its leverage, including the additional leverage afforded by the current peace process, and assist the State of Israel in the process of reforming its Citizenship Law with the view to allowing dual Israeli-Palestinian citizenship as well.

Needless to say that expanding and improving individual choice, in this case the individual choice of the Palestinians in Syria, Jordan, and, by extension, all Middle Eastern states, and furthermore, extending the legal choices and legal options of each individual human being who is ordinarily resident in the Middle East, is not only good legislation, but also good for all those who subscribe to a future vision of a democratic Middle Eastern union.


It is also quite remarkable that in different ways, both Jordanian and Syrian citizenship legislation gives respectability to official Zionist and Israeli citizenship legislation.

Jordanian law does that by stipulating that Jews (including Jewish Arab) ordinarily resident in Palestine before 1948 (who had Palestinian citizenship prior to 15 May 1948) are denied their right to Jordanian citizenship on a confessional basis: because they are Jews (Article III (2)).(20) By unjustly discriminating against Jews, Jordanian law reflects Israeli legal discrimination against non-Jews.

Likewise, subjecting the Syrian Arab Constitution, and its proclamation of the Arab Republic as a "socialist, popular and democratic State", to the critical light of citizenship analysis reveals a curious convergence of Syrian Ba'th ideology of "Arab unity" with Israeli Zionist ideology of the "Jewish people" institutionalized in both cases through the legal discrimination between jinsiyya citizenship and muwatana citizenship.(21)

In their respective contexts, this discriminatory distinction serves as an instrument to violate the principle of the democratic rule of law in that the foundation of the rule of law is equality of rights of all citizens of the state regardless of irrelevant differences of nationality, language, origin, religion or sex. In the case of Israel, jinsiyya (passport) citizenship serves to veil the radical discrimination of reserving muwatana citizenship rights only for those citizens recognized by the state as "Jews". In the case of Syria, jinsiyya citizenship serves to veil discrimination against those who are not recognized by the state as "Arabs" or as, being of "Arab origin".


1. Thus, for instance, there is no secular registration of marriage in Syria as an alternative to confessional marriage. The Population Registry (Nufus) will not register a marriage that is not supported by a confessional marriage certificate. Mixed marriages are allowed only in conformity with Muslim Shari'a (Interview, GW, Damascus, 11 November 1994).

Yet, Islam is not constitutionally defined as the official religion of the Syrian Arab Republic. Syrian Identity Cards render the following classification:

Syrian Arab Republic Ministry of Interior Identity Card (Bataqa Shakhsiyya) No. of registration (in registry book) First name Last (family) name Father's name Mother's name (and family name) Place and date of birth Place and No. of registration Sex Color of face Color of eyes Special marks Elected address Date of registration Date of issue Registration office (e.g. Damascus) Signature of registration officer Fingerprint (of card-holder) Card No. (different from registration No. in registry book) [There is a third number punched into the plastic body of the card]. There is no separate notation of religion, confession or nationality.

2. Aziz Shukri, Syrian Arab Citizenship. (Arabic), Dar al-Fikr, Damascus, 1970, p. 12.

3. Shukri, ibid., p. 17.

4. Palestinians excepted, see below.

5. Shukri, op. cit, p. 57.

6. Which is forfeited upon naturalization. Under the provisions of the Agreement of 5 April 1954 promulgated by the League of Arab States regarding the regulation of citizenship among its member states, dual Arab state-Arab state citizenship is prohibited (see below).

7. Shukri, op cit., pp. 75-76.

8. Shukri, ibid.

9. Not unlike the Israeli Jewish Immigrant Certificate (Te'udat 'Oleh).

10. Shukri, op. cit, p. 79.

11. The classification of the Syrian Arab Republic Palestinian ID is as follows:

Syrian Arab Republic Ministry of Interior Certificate of Temporary Residence for Palestinian Photograph No. (registration No. in registry book) First name Last (family) name Father's name Mother's name (family name) Place and date of birth No. of bataqat al-'aila (registration No. of family book) Original Residence (e.g. Nazareth) Sex Color of face Color of eyes Special marks Elected address Place and date of issue Department of Immigration and Passports Signature of registration officer Fingerprint (of card-holder) Card No. (different from registration No. in registry book) Third No. punched into the body of the plastic card

12. Interview, A Gh, Damascus, 15 November, 1994.

13. Ministry of Interior, Directorate of Immigration and Passports, Travel Document for Palestinian Refugees.

14. S M al-D, 11 and 17 November 1994; L J, 13 and 17 November 1994; A Gh 15 and 17 November 1994; Gh al-Gh, 15 November 1994.

15. Muhhamad Rabah al-Tawil, Minister of Interior, Syrian Arab Citizenship Law. (Eds. Ahmad Rafiq al-Khayyat and Ahmad al-Zayn, Introduction by Mustafa al-Barudi), Arab Books, Damascus, 1980, p.28.

16. Shukri, op. cit., p. 69.

17. Shukri, ibid.

18. The dissolution of the union of the Hashemite Kingdom, East and West of the river Jordan, and the nullification of the 1950 annexation of the West Bank to Transjordan. See Uri Davis, "Jinsiyya versus Muwatana: The Question of Citizenship and the State in the Middle East - The Case of Israel, Jordan and Palestine." Paper submitted before BRISMES Annual Conference, University of Manchester, 12-14 July 1994.

19. The right of abode protects the citizen from deportation outside the sovereign territory of the state where he or she are citizens. To borrow Laurie Fransman's term, the right of abode (freedom from deportation) is "the gut of citizenship" (Fransman British Nationality law, Fourmat Publishing, London. 1989. p 139).

20. Needless to say, I am aware of the political context of the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israel Arab war of 1948 underpinning the passage of this Law. But this consideration is morally and legally irrelevant. The law as formulated discriminates against persons otherwise entitled to Jordanian citizenship only because they are Jews, namely not Muslim and not Christians.

21. The terminology of "Jinsiyya versus Muwatana" has been developed by me together with Tim Niblock elsewhere. See for instance, Uri Davis, op. cit.

Uri Davis is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham, and at the Centre for Arab Gulf Studies, University of Exeter, United Kingdom.
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Author:Davis, Uri
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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