In December 2020 Ghada Najibe woke up to a phone call – “the Egyptian government has announced they are stripping you of your nationality”, Ghada’s friend told her down the line. That morning Egypt’s Official Gazette had published a government decision, signed by the Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly, which stated that Ghada was originally Syrian and had a Syrian passport.
Ghada was distraught. Although her father is Syrian, she has never held any other nationality than Egyptian. The government has not presented any documents or paperwork to support their accusation, she told MEMO. Even Amnesty International has investigated this claim both in Egypt and Syria and concluded that Ghada was telling the truth.
Ghada appealed the decision through her lawyer Khalid Ali and will find out on 27 February whether the decision will be reversed. “Unfortunately, our experience with the Egyptian judiciary is bitter and disappointing,” says Ghada.
“We know very well that our judiciary is politicised, given the many previous rulings on issues related to freedom of opinion and expression, and referring political opponents to the criminal justice system on charges of terrorism that have no basis and so I am not optimistic.”
Ghada is an outspoken political activist now living in exile in Turkey who played a central role in the 2011 revolution and continued to speak out against the ruling SCAF government which followed Mubarak’s fall, and then the Sisi regime.
In 2015 Ghada and her husband left Egypt after an official in the government warned them that she could no longer be protected. They were sentenced to five years in prison in absentia for alleged terror charges and disturbing state security.
Since arriving in Turkey five of their nephews have been arrested as a punitive measure against their outspoken activism. They have been accused of joining and funding a terror group, and another two relatives were later detained. “Mine and my husband’s family have now completely cut us off after the arrest of seven members of our family by the Egyptian authorities,” she says.
Egyptian embassies and consulates have refused to renew the passports of hundreds of Egyptian dissidents abroad, especially those living in Turkey, because Cairo considers Ankara to be the centre of the opposition abroad. Roughly 33,000 Egyptians live in exile in Turkey. If they have the means, Egyptians travel to other countries in the region just to renew their documents or passports including to obtain birth certificates for newborns.
“Surprisingly, not many things will change,” Ghada says about what will happen if her appeal is not successful. “Even if the decision is in my favour and I keep my citizenship, my passport will not be renewed like many others.”
Since the Egyptian government could just refuse to renew Ghada’s passport the next time it is up for renewal, it’s likely they are making a public example of her as a warning to other regime critics. Their insistence that she holds Syrian nationality is likely to deflect criticism of the fact that under international law you cannot make someone stateless, Egyptian human rights activist Ahmed El-Attar told MEMO.
Ghada’s husband is the famous TV star turned journalist Hesham Abdalla whose passport expired in 2018. Since then, the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul has refused to renew it, and that of their four children. “I am now stateless,” says Ghada.