CAIRO: The approval by Egypt’s parliament of rules to allow foreign nationals to gain citizenship after five years if they pay nearly $400,000 has sparked an angry response.
Monday’s passing of an amendment to existing legislation creates a category of residence for investors in the country.
Supporters said the move would benefit the Egyptian economy. Critics complained that Egypt already has a large and growing population and high unemployment.
“The Egyptian nationality is being sold not for investment, but for other unknown means,” said Haitham Al-Hariri, MP.
Until now there have been three types of Egyptian residence: Normal, special and temporary.
The amendment will allow investors who wish to live in Egypt to deposit the required sum into one of their banks after they have been in Egypt for five years. They would then be allowed to apply for Egyptian citizenship.
After being granted citizenship the investor would not be able to exercise their political rights for another five years. As it stands, residents can apply for citizenship after 10 years, without having to make a deposit.
This means the investor would not be able to run for election until 10 years after they arrived in the country. The condition was a compromise included to gain the approval of parliament’s National Defense and Security Committee.
Only a handful of MPs opposed the law. Supporters said that the law would encourage and stimulate investment and bring hard currency into the country.
Marwan Omar, minister of legal and parliamentary affairs, said it had always been part of the law to give citizenship to investors.
Opponents of the bill said the law smacks of desperation as the government scrambles to find ways to increase foreign exchange resources.
Dr. Ali Abdel-Aal, Speaker of the House of Representatives, criticized media coverage of the debate over the new law.
“Egyptian nationality is not for sale,” he said, in response to some of the headlines about the new citizenship status.
Abdel-Aal said all applications would still go through the relevant authorities, and that the state had the right to reject people at any time.
He added that many countries offered nationality, provided they come with a set of conditions, and that the granting of citizenship would not be detrimental to Egypt.
“There are people who have been here 30 or 40 years and there are second and third generations, all of whom live in Egypt and support us by paying for things like gasoline and diesel, so why not benefit from them through the deposit?” he said.
Some predictions said the government’s profits in the first days of the implementation of the draft law could be up to $10 billion. There are already between four and five million foreign nationals living in Egypt.