Europe in the World

EUSpring | Citizenship in the discourse of Egyptian political parties

7 September 2015
Nouran Ahmed (Assistant Researcher, Arab Forum for Alternatives), Mahmoud Bayoumi (Assistant Researcher, Arab Forum for Alternatives) and Mohamed El Agati (Director, Cairo-based Arab Forum for Alternatives)

The concept of citizenship is one of the most complicated in political and social sciences. Its long process of historical development makes dealing with it particularly complicated.

Citizenship is by nature a multi-dimensional concept: there is a legal citizenship, referring first to the equal legal status of individuals, for instance the equality between men and women. Legal citizenship also refers to a political dimension, the right to start and/or join political parties, or political participation more broadly. Thirdly, it has a religious dimension relating to the right of all religious groups to equally and freely practice their religious customs and rituals. Finally, legal citizenship possesses a socio-economic dimension related to the non-marginalisation of different social categories, for instance women. All of these dimensions, far from being purely objects of legal texts and codifications, are emerging as an arena of political struggle within the Egyptian society.

Citizenship as a concept has its roots in European history and, more specifically, the emergence of the nation state in Europe and the ensuing economic and social developments in these societies. These social developments and the rise of the nation state have worked in parallel, fostering the notion of an individual citizen bestowed with rights and obligations. This gradual interaction was very different from what happened in the context of the Arab world. The emerging of the nation state in Egypt was an outcome of modernisation efforts from the top-down; it coercively redesigned the social structure, by eliminating or weakening some social classes in favour of others. These efforts have had an impact on the state-society relation at least in two respects. First, on the overlapping relation between some social classes and the state, and second, on the ability of some social groups to self-organise, define and raise their demands.

This study identifies how different political parties in Egypt envision the multi-dimensional concept of citizenship. We focus on the following elements:

  • Nature of the state (identity, nature of the regime)
  • Liberties and rights (election laws, political party laws, etc.)
  • Right to gather and organise (syndicates, associations, etc.)
  • Freedom of expression and speech (right to protest, sit in, strike, etc.)
  • Public and individual liberties (freedom of belief, personal issues, etc.)
  • Rights of marginalised groups (women, minorities, etc.) 

This paper is published in the framework of the EUSpring project on Democracy and Citizenship in North Africa after the Arab Awakening: Challenges for EU and US Foreign Policy ( The project is carried out by a consortium of organisations, including the European Policy Centre, University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, the Centre for Mediterranean and International Studies in Tunisia and the Centre de Recherche sur l'Afrique et la Méditerranée in Morocco and coordinated by Università degli Studi L’Orientale in Naples. The project is supported by the Compagnia di San Paolo.

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