A Lonely Exception to Saudi Naturalization Law

Dubai is often noted as being unique for its large proportion of foreign residents. By some accounts more than 90% of the metropolitan population is foreign. This is not unique to Dubai, or even the UAE — for decades, Saudi Arabia has imported workers, and at present about 5.5 million of the 27 million people living in the country are foreigners — 23% of the total population. Many people are surprised to hear this because of the Kingdom is so strictly conservative. Alcohol is forbidden, women cannot drive, and even property crimes can be punished by flogging, amputation, and execution.

Nonetheless, millions of foreigners live in the country, and many have actually naturalized as Saudi citizens and culturally feel (and are accepted as) Arabs. In 2004, the law was modernized to allow anyone who has lived in the kingdom for ten years to apply for citizenship, with priority being given to those with degrees in various scientific fields. In Dubai I have met a person of Pakistani descent who was born in Saudi Arabia and who naturalized as a Saudi under this law. Officially, such persons must also be Muslims, although this is not reportedly the case for all who are granted citizenship.

This option to naturalize is available to citizens of all countries, with only one exception — Palestinians. As many as a quarter of a million Palestinians live in Saudi Arabia, but they are prohibited to hold or even apply for Saudi citizenship because of Arab League instructions barring Arab states from granting them citizenship in order “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland.”

This seems rather tragic to me — that a people who are by their heritage Arab, who speak the language fluently, who are born and raised in Saudi Arabia, are nevertheless banned from merely submitting an application for Saudi citizenship — and indeed, if the application of this rule is universal, citizenship anywhere else in the Arab world. Don’t expect any changes from the Saudi regime if you want to criticize that, they don’t take kindly to outside comments on their legal system.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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3 Responses to A Lonely Exception to Saudi Naturalization Law

  1. Pingback: So what if… « The World According to Me…

  2. antiobjectivist says:

    The tragedy is the ethnic cleansing upon which Israel was founded and the present policy described by Moshe Dayan as being akin to rape and “they will live like dogs and whoever will leave will leave” . The demand for other Arab countries to absorb the Palestinians is something the Israelis have been playing up over the years for obvious reasons – this is the real problem, not anything the Saudis are doing.

    The reason why there are third-class Palestinians is because of those who ban them from returning to their homes and those who support this.

  3. Curzon says:

    AO, that’s a great anti-Israeli spiel that ignores practical reality — that a majority of Palestinians now live outside Israel and the occupied territories, many as refugees in Arab countries, and because of they Arab League policy that refuses to naturalize them, they are stateless, unable to travel, and stuck in political and legal limbo. This is a humanitarian travesty — and you can go so far as to oppose the existence of Israel and still believe this. It should also be noted that Arab states recognize Palestinians if they obtain non-Arab nationalities, as I’ve met second-generation Irish Palestinians in Dubai who are delighted to wield EU passports.

    Furthermore, due to the male-oriented definition of ethnicity and citizenship in Arab society, the result of this policy is to encourage Palestinian women to marry non-Palestinian, non-Arab nationals. The definition of a Palestinian in most Arab states is any Arab who resided in Palestine prior to 1947, and anyone born, after that date of a Palestinian father. If the kids of a Palestinian mother are not born to a Palestinian male, they are exempt from this cruel restriction on naturalization.