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Algeria: Draft law to cancel citizenship from exiled opposition sparks anger

Algeria Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati is pictured in Algiers on November 25, 2020 [AFP via Getty Images]
Algeria Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati is pictured in Algiers on November 25, 2020 [AFP via Getty Images]

The government in Algeria is looking at a controversial law which could, if passed, be used to strip citizenship from opposition figures in exile. The move has been proposed by Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati because, he believes, political opponents living overseas could commit acts against Algeria's national interests.

The draft law has been discussed by the government but no decision on it has been taken. The text provides for the withdrawal of nationality from every Algerian living abroad who acts against the interests of the state; undermines national unity; joins a terrorist organisation; or finances or defends terrorism. The "interests of the state", of course, are determined by the state and can be manipulated for political purposes.

According to information obtained exclusively by Arabic Post, the draft law will not be retracted as it has been promoted through media outlets and on social media. The move has clearly been prompted by dissenting voices which have irritated the Algerian regime to the point where the authorities are planning to do something that has never been done by any previous government, even during the era of the one-party state.

READ: We have met most of protesters' demands, says Algerian President

"It is an attempt to intimidate activists and the Algerian community abroad," said France-based political activist Mehdi Biskri. "Nothing more, nothing less."

Biskri is a former member of the Barakat (Enough) Movement, which opposed the rule of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. "Even if the law is approved and becomes effective, the authorities will not enforce it, because it would be a source of shame [to the state]," he added.

Following the return of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune from Germany, where he was treated for months for Covid-19, it is safe to say that he likes to stay updated about political developments via social media. A few days ago he addressed the rumours that accompanied his treatment. Tebboune seemed particularly irked by those who claimed that he was murdered and his body was hidden away and that he has had a disagreement with the army, which prompted him to flee from Algeria.

Algeria's asking where is President Tebboune – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The president pointed a finger at social media accounts affiliated with security agendas that are active overseas and have the primary goal of creating confusion and shaking the fragile stability in the country. Since taking office in December 2019, Tebboune has accused foreign parties who have Algerian blood on their hands of treason and corruption on several occasions.

According to Mohamed Elaraby Zitout, a UK-based former diplomat and member of the Rashad Movement, "Tebboune seeks to pass this law in order to silence and intimidate the Algerian community abroad." In a video posted on his Facebook page, Zitout added that such a law will not discourage Algerians living abroad from continuing the struggle for a civilian democratic state.

Legal affairs and human rights expert Fadhil Al-Aish, who lives in France, expressed his surprise at the Algerian government's mere thought of enacting a law that would strip citizens of their nationality. The former judge told Arabic Post that, "The original nationality is attached to a citizen since his/her birth as an authentic characteristic that attaches him/her to the homeland. That is why we refer to people as Algerians, Tunisians or French in relation to their nationality." Original nationality, he added, is not an acquired right. "It is, rather, linked to the person's essence, as in civilised countries — where even pets have a nationality — and date and place of birth… It is an attribute that is closely related to the existence of people in this land; it is not optional, and therefore it cannot be removed or separated from a person unless land is merged or occupied."

READ: Algeria releases dozens of activists after presidential pardon

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