Citizenship, membership and religious traditions

Having previously reported on the relation between citizenship and ethnicity as well as secular and religious citizenship, we should add that ethnicity can in some countries be proven through religious affiliation. It is important to be mindful of this aspect because it is not fully captured by the legal rules in ordinary citizenship legislation and it partly explains certain citizenship policies.



We can think of Montenegro, with the involvement of the Serbian respectively Montenegrin Orthodox Church in deciding “membership” based on a specific linguistic and religious tradition. As noted by Milja Radović, “membership [in either church] defines national identity. The battle over the demos in the religious sphere reveals the ethnocentric tendencies of the otherwise constitutionally ‘civic state’”. In Radović’s work a number of issues on which we reported on earlier come together. With a particular focus on the post-Yugoslav states she explains that she explores “the ways in which religion and religious institutions impact citizenship regimes […], both explicitly and implicitly”. Approaching citizenship as membership and through the dimension of identity, she shows how the issue of identity “has been at the core of the triadic nexus of political community, ethnic belonging and religious affiliation; which has had further impacts on the understanding of political membership, and the definitions of who belongs and how”.


Also in a country like Lebanon, maintaining the country’s (perceived) confessional balance has long been the most significant consideration in debates surrounding nationality policy. In the Middle East, according to research by Tilburg University, citizenship may be taken away if a person renounces Islam “or acts in a manner indicating the intention to abandon Islam” (Kuwait) or if the citizen is an atheist or belongs to an “anti-religious group” (Oman).


Egypt is a special case, as it allows for revocation of citizenship if a person “was described as being a Zionist at any time”. Zahra Albarazi additionally notes that double ius soli only applies in Egypt if the child’s father originates from a country in which Arabic is the principal language and where Islam is the principal religion. Until 2009, people who were not members of Islam, Christianity or Judaism were not entitled to ID documents in Egypt. We have noted before that all this is problematic in light of the international norms prohibiting racial discrimination as laid down in the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. With the adoption by Israel of the Nation-State law in July last year, we also see a rapid radicalisation along ethnic and religious lines there.


Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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