Kuwait hotline to report citizenship fraud stirs up election debate

Government says it is addressing citizenship irregularities but critics accuse it of stoking division

The mother of a bidoon family shows the two kinds of Kuwait's passports in Sulaibiya, Kuwait on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009. The blue one is for a Kuwaiti citizen, the mother's, and the silver ones belong to her husband and children, all bidoons.

Credit: Gustavo Ferrari for The National
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The Kuwaiti government's decision to set up a hotline for people to report citizenship fraud has stirred up debate over the state's approach to citizenship rights just two weeks before Kuwaitis head to the polls.

The government unveiled the hotline over the weekend following the revocation of Kuwaiti citizenship from 30 individuals in the past 10 days. Authorities accused them of obtaining citizenship through fraudulent means or false statements.

Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Dr Mohammad Al Sabah issued decrees last week to remove citizenships from 20 people, according to a government statement, while six others had their citizenship removed via decrees issued by the Ministry of Interior. Four others had their citizenship removed the week before.

The state must be fairer and wiser from a national perspective
Abdullah Al Ghanim, Kuwaiti political analyst

“The decisions issued by the ministry resulting in stripping the citizenship of several people were based on proof of their dual nationalities, as they obtained nationalities,” the Kuwait News Agency cited the Interior Ministry as saying. Kuwait does not allow dual citizenship under its laws.

The decree to strip the others based on other articles of Kuwait's citizenship law were also implemented. The ministry cited the right to “withdraw citizenship if it was granted by fraud or based on false statements”, and “the withdrawal of nationality if a person is convicted within 15 years of being granted Kuwaiti nationality for a crime involving moral turpitude and dishonesty”.

Among those who had their citizenship stripped was extremist opposition figure Hakim Al Mutairi, head of the Ummah Party, who is in exile in Turkey. Al Mutairi was designated as a terrorist by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain in 2017.

Several former parliamentarians who are running for the upcoming elections have denounced the interior ministry’s decision to set up a hotline, which they say stokes strife among citizens.

“It is not appropriate for the Ministry of Interior to make national identity a subject of controversy. It is not appropriate for a portion of the population to recruit informants at the request of the Minister of the Interior, who has ceded his powers to them,” former MP Obaid Al Wasmi said in a post on X.

Other critics of the recent decision said the government's practice of stripping citizenship via a mass ruling without judicial oversight would lead to further political strife ahead of the elections, which come as a result of Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Meshal dissolving parliament after parliamentarians refused to censure an MP who reportedly insulted the ruler.

“Dropping the citizenships of those found to have forged en masse will lead to a greater national crisis. The state must be fairer and wiser from a comprehensive national perspective,” said Kuwaiti political analyst Abdullah Al Ghanim.

Some MPs, however, have stated they are in support of further investigations into what they called citizenship fraud, and are campaigning on the issue in the upcoming elections.

“I’m running on the central issue of protecting citizenship rights. This includes placing further bills in the legislative branch of government so that the issue of citizenship rights would be rid of corruption and fraud like it is today,” said Suhaila Al Salem, who is running in the third district.

Kuwaiti citizenship is passed down from a Kuwaiti father to his children automatically. Kuwait, however, allows for naturalisation by a high-committee comprised of Kuwaiti nationals designated by the Minister of the Interior who periodically evaluate applicants seeking citizenship.

Kuwait's Interior Ministry clarified the legal basis behind its decision to set up a dedicated hotline for reporting crimes related to forgers, dual nationals, and Kuwaiti passports.

“The Ministry of Interior reaffirms its commitment to upholding the law in addressing criminal activities, citing Article 14 of Law 17 of 1960 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Trials,” the Interior Ministry said.

The article in question mandates individuals who witness or have knowledge of a crime to promptly report it to the authorities.

Citizenship rights have been at the centre of a long-standing debate in Kuwait, including the issue of about 120,000 stateless people in the country known as the “bidoon”.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:08 PM