Statelessness in the Post-Arab Spring Era

By Lina Beydoun
Submitted to Session P4737 (Reflections on the State and Statelessness in the Post-Arab Spring Era, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab States;
Human Rights;
The ongoing transformations in the Arab region are reshaping the relationship between the citizen and the state. Following Randall Hansen, this paper argues that citizenship is the single most vital generator of rights in a nation-state, and that citizenship inclusion contributes to resolving long-standing political conflicts in the region. The paper examines the increasing risk of statelessness in the post-Arab Spring era. Statelessness, an extreme form of citizenship discrimination, denies individuals their basic rights to protection, education, healthcare, employment, housing, and freedom of movement. Nonetheless, there has been a lack of systematic research on statelessness. It is unsafe to investigate statelessness in tumultuous states such as Syria and access is restricted to researchers in the Gulf States.

The rise of postcolonial nation-states and the redrawing of maps in the region have resulted in citizenship exclusion of several minority groups, including the Bedoon in Kuwait and the Gulf region. The Arab Spring led to the emergence of new forms of statelessness and galvanized the Bedoon in Kuwait to demand equal citizenship rights. However, the Kuwaiti government responded unfavorably to the Bedoon peaceful demonstrations and detained hundreds of protesters. Meanwhile, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, seeing new threats to their power emerge during the Arab Spring, implemented measures to contain dissidents, including increasingly stripping them of citizenship. In the ISIS-controlled areas of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, hundreds of children born there are having difficulties being officially registered by the government authorities, rendering them stateless. The situation of stateless people has been exacerbated by the unprecedented number of Syrian refugees. Children born in Lebanon to Syrian refugees face administrative impediments, and many of them remain stateless. The debilitating stigma of statelessness will marginalize these children and lead to more extremism and violence. While there have been some efforts by government authorities, such as the Ministry of Interior in Lebanon and Iraq, to register births of displaced populations, the region offers few legal protections. The compliance of Arab states with international legal norms governing statelessness remain weak, and most Arab countries are not signatories of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Nonetheless, international law provides an alternative source of rights that transcends the jurisdiction of individual nation-states.