State, Citizenship, and Diaspora: The Cases of Jordan and Lebanon (Working Paper #146)

Laurie A. Brand, University of Southern California

Introduction: In July 1995, Hisham bin `Abdallah al-`Alaoui, the nephew of King Hassan II of Morocco, published an article entitled “Etre Citoyen dans le Monde Arabe.”1 In it, the Moroccan prince discussed several factors that he regarded as having played key roles in thwarting the emergence of full citizenship in the region. Among them was the failure or lack of will on the part of the modern Middle Eastern state to displace or erase previous forms of authority and loyalty, such as tribal, ethnic, and religious ties, and the evolution of a form of state centralization intertwined with these existing authority structures. It was a bold and stinging indictment of the state’s failure to provide full participation or inclusion—citizenship—in the Arab world.

There is no question that Arab states, the successor administrations to the Ottomans as well as the other regimes across the region, have more often undermined than upheld conditions of meaningful citizenship, at least in the traditional Western sense. And few would argue that the state of citizenship in the Arab world has improved in the years since al-`Alaoui published his controversial analysis. Indeed, aside from a few relatively superficial developments in the electoral sphere in a handful of countries, the balance between rights and responsibilities continues to lean heavily to the side of a “citizen’s” duties, the most important of which is often to accept with minimal questioning continuing state repression and even corruption.

Moreover, whatever changes may be underway as a result of globalization, the international system is still one characterized by the presence and interaction of sovereign states, and citizenship is monitored, controlled by, and vested in those states. Only a state can apply and uphold the rights and obligations of citizenship within a particular territory, through attributes and institutions associated with its sovereignty. That said, states do not operate in a vacuum: myriad forces, many internal but others external, affect a range of state policies.

In the realm of citizenship, the examples of the French in Algeria and the British in Palestine are only two of the most striking regional examples of outside forces playing a devastating role in shaping the concept and practice of citizenship with continuing effects to this day. Yet most writings on citizenship in the Arab context focus on the domestic scene, on varying access to and practice of citizenship according to gender, ethnicity, religion, and the like. Just as important, aside from works in a variety of disciplines that address the conditions of non-nationals in the Gulf states or that deal with the status of the Palestinians (whether as second-class citizens of Israel, as an occupied population in the West Bank, or as refugee camps dwellers unwanted in Lebanon), there is little consideration of Arab nationals abroad and their relationships to the home state.

The literature broadly classified as part of the field of transnationalism has important insights for those concerned with questions of diasporas and citizenship, but has not had much impact on Middle Eastern studies.2 Given the long-standing authoritarianism in the Arab world it is perhaps understandable that little attention has been given to such issues in the Middle East/North Africa context. If civil, economic, and political rights of the average national are given short shrift on home turf, why should one expect the Arab state to engage in substantially different behavior toward nationals abroad? Nevertheless, for a more complete understanding, not only of citizenship in the region but also of the Arab state itself, consideration of how governments with sizeable numbers of nationals abroad deal with these citizens is critical. In the discussion that follows, the cases of Jordan and Lebanon, both of which have significant number of nationals living beyond their borders, are explored historically for the lessons about state, citizenship and diaspora that they offer.

Working Paper #146 »