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Première partie

Nationality in the Arab World, 1830-1960: Negotiating Belonging and the Law

M’hamed Oualdi

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  • 1 This issue of REMMM owes a lot not only to the authors but also to the efforts of meticulous reader (...)

1Algerians who were annexed to a state but had to imagine a nation of their own; Palestinians who consider themselves members of a nation but do not belong to an internationally recognized state: these two cases may seem extreme but they constitute only a few of the multiple configurations brought out by the question of nationality in the Arab world from the 1830s (the beginning of the slow fragmentation of the Ottoman empire) to the 1960s (the disappearance of colonial authorities in North Africa and the Levant). This special issue of REMMM was born out of a desire to confront and question such configurations.1 There has been a surge of recent research on nationality in North Africa during the colonial period and the pre-colonial period of the second half of the 19th century (Blévis 2003; Urban 2011; Amara 2012; Benslimane and Adbessamad 2012; Oualdi 2012). In this vein, we wanted to confront our own research to the set of questions that are arising for the Middle East at a time when for each part of the Arab world greater attention is being granted to the Ottoman legacy and the circulation of imperial experience (especially between British and French territories). Concomitantly, such historical research looks less to the origins of the state and the nation – themes that have for too long been the primary focus of historians – and instead considers a social history of politics by examining practices, perceptions, and feelings of belonging as well as the logics of historical actors (Cerutti 2012).

Vertical and horizontal links

2As it is conceived today, nationality lies at the crossroads between two historical approaches: it can be seen from, firstly, the vantage point of the state or secondly, that of nationals or those who aspire to become nationals. As Gérard Noiriel (1995, 5) puts it, nationality is defined as “belonging codified by law” as well as “the feeling of belonging of a group of individuals who are themselves defined by an ensemble of cultural characteristics.” Nationality combines a vertical legal link between individuals and a state and the horizontal relationships between members of a “community” (Lagarde 2003).

  • 2 In this mindset, the French nationality is of a more political substance as it is linked to the ter (...)

3The first dimension of nationality – its legal and state form – was a particularly fertile ground for jurists and later historians of the nation-state. The question of the legal relation to the state became a staple of thèses de droit (law dissertations) in the French Third Republic (Blévis 2003; Parolin 2007). The idea of an almost structural opposition between French and German conceptions of nationality brought forth vigorous debates (Kastoryano 2001; Brubaker 1997) before this view was nuanced and recontextualized for a larger number of European cases (Weil and Hansen 1999).2 But the second dimension of nationality, the way it is constructed by subjectivities, social interactions and the relations between social, legal and institutional elements, remains to be better delimited, especially through historical sociology and historical work sensitive to a multitude of individual journeys and the dynamics of interaction. For the French case, some inroads have been made by exploring the tension between legal definitions of nationality and feelings of belonging. More crucially, the state logic of identification and the structure of national identity have been studied (Noiriel 1995), examining how, in other words, a state able to name each and every one of its nationals was able to “legally distinguish nationals from the foreigners present on its territory” (Beaugrand 2009, 22; Denis and About 2010).

  • 3 I follow here Isabelle Grangaud (2013), who defines this belonging as “registers to which individua (...)

4Between these two approaches, that of the history of the nation and the socio-history of the state, the French “republican model” of integration has also been questioned at the scale of the colonial empire in order to “test the discourses produced by colonization” and to confront them to “the actual practices of the colonial administration” (Blévis 2003, 27). One of the goals of this research has been to pinpoint contradictions inherent in a model elaborated from a metropolitan matrix. Contrary to its universal claims, this model “was marked by the greatest particularism of all – that of race” (Saada 2007, 275). Studies of nationality in North Africa are still largely indebted to and dependent upon this tension. In the Middle East, the question of nationality was approached from very different lines, under the angle of relations between a majority Muslim population (or Muslim powers) and non-Muslim minorities: how, for instance, did the imperial Ottoman construction wilter under the weight of communities, nationalisms and nationalities (Karpat 1982, 141)? Conversely, why was it the case that minorities were unable to carve a place for themselves after independence in postcolonial nations defined by Arab and Muslim identities (Abécassis and Le Gall-Kazazian 1992)? Other approaches to the interactions between nations and empires as well as recent research on the identification of persons (Grangaud and Michel 2010) not only lead us to bringing together interrogations on nationality in the North African and Middle Eastern contexts but, more importantly, invite us to cross-fertilize the vertical and horizontal approaches to nationality in order to contribute to the writing of a social history of belonging.3

Imperial Legacy and Social Interaction

5North Africa – and more particularly Algeria – cannot be seen simply as a place upon which European legal experiences were transplanted. Nor can the nations of North Africa be reduced to the fragments of collapsed empires. The medieval Muslim empire, the Ottoman empire and colonial empires have constituted frameworks for the “elaboration” and transformation of relations between social groups as well as the relationship between the governing and the governed. All this led to specific structures of “citizenship and rights” in the modern period. These structures are, as such, frameworks for the standardization of endogenous practices of belonging. The vertical and horizontal dimensions of nationality can be found at work in a combination of the “imperial imaginary” and the “national imaginary,” to use the terms of Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper. The imperial imagination reposes on “the vertical link, the disparity between different elements” that has existed since the Middle Ages: in the framework of Muslim domination, Muslim empires had to construct relationships between Muslim government and dhimmis, on the one hand, and, on the other, these empires had to construct relationships between Muslim subjects and dhimmi subjects. The “national imaginary,” the other, more recent polarity, “focuses on horizontal community,” the equivalence of all nationals (Burbank and Cooper 2008, 497). In North Africa as in the Middle East, the construction of nationality and its practices can be understood on several levels. Firstly, following the close ties between imperial capitals and colonies, one can look through the prism of imperial legacies and the circulation of state experiences. Secondly, one can look at the sustained debates on Islamic norms and rights claims at the local level. All these threads contributed to the “complex weaving together of belonging” (Denoix 1997).

6Just as identity is no longer considered “an essence or a state of being” but rather “a relationship,” “the result of a negotiation” (Vidal 2009, 1025), nationality does not consist solely of discourse or practices. Rather, nationality is also fashioned by all sorts of interactions between nationals and states, between nationals and foreigners... In other words, how individuals experience and relate to their nationality cannot be reduced to cases that confirm or infirm the existence of a model or of a “legal monstrosity.” In specific contexts, their individual experiences reveal the “contractual rather than purely identity-related dimension of the formalization of political communities” (Grangaud 2013, 7).

7Because nationality has as much to do with individual performances as with the circulation of experiences between empires and nation-states, and because it links these performances with these experiences, it allows us to explore pragmatically the different links between individuals and the state. By taking into account other decisive moorings (being a Muslim or an Ottoman, for example) and by inscribing individuals at the local as well as the national and transnational scales, this conception of nationality allows us to consider other categories of belonging without being reduced to a colonial temporality. This is how the question of nationality allows us to understand the significance of one of the major historical means of defining and protecting individual rights: as Philippe Bourmaud reminds us in this issue by quoting Carl Schmitt, the legal link between individuals and the state established by nationality derives from and defines the moment when the state becomes “the nomos of the earth” and when everything that does not fit this norm is bound to become suppressed.

Alternative chronologies

8The articles that make up this special issue trace the first dimension of the legal definition of nationality, namely, the relation between a state and its nationals under the framework of establishing uniform subordination, including or excluding foreigners and migrants... But the various articles also try to shed light on the other dimension of nationality by looking to individuals, their personal understanding of nationality and how they integrated it to their own moral economy of belonging following “the production, distribution, circulation and utilization within the social sphere of moral feelings, emotions and values, norms and obligations” (Fassin 2009, 1257). The articles in this special issue are organized chronologically and sometimes raise the legal question of the transition from imperial subordination to nationality. Yet the articles question the very idea of a progression of legal status and of the imposition of a state-governed regime of belonging organized entirely on the basis of nationality.

  • 4 Moroccan dahir of 1958; Tunisian decree of 1963; 1970 ordinance overturning the 1963 law in Algeria

9The groundbreaking, and still extremely relevant, scholarship on nationality in some parts of the Arab and Muslim world has been extremely useful in establishing periods and giving a clear timeline of the steps that led to the adoption and diffusion of nationality laws. These studies distinguished three main stages. The first stage concerns the legal construction of the concept of nationality from 1830 to 1880, which produced the status of “local subjects” in Ottoman provinces and territories ruled by European colonial powers (Abécassis and Le Gall-Kazazian 1992; Ilbert 1988; Blécis 2003). The second stage is the reinscription of these norms in the context of the protectorate and the dismantling of belonging in the Ottoman world after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 for the mandates (Bourmaud 2009; Sfeir 2008) and Egypt (1929 law; see Abécassis and Le Gall-Kazazian 1992). This stage was characterized by a will to clarify ambivalent statuses such as “protégé”. Legal belonging was homogenized through successive nationality laws in which colonized populations were classified according to categories emanating from the law of the colonizers. Finally, the third stage came about at the time of national independence. Following a clear political desire to end any and all particular minority status or specific legal treatment, these categories of belonging were soon reshaped in the Maghrib (Henry 1994) and Egypt, in Bilâd al-Shâm as well as in the Arabian peninsula (Beaugrand 2009).4

10The present issue comes after these seminal works and does not aim to rewrite a chronological history of nationality. Nations do not succeed empires: both forms of government were intertwined and shaped by legal constructions anterior to them. More importantly, the articles in this issue do not claim to be exhaustive: they deal with individual trajectories, specific groups (Jews, Italian migrants, etc.), distinct territories (Algeria, Tunisia, Palestine, Syria/Lebanon), and “conjectures of nationality that bring about a renegotiation of the terms of ethnic belonging” (Nourredine Amara). The methodological frame we have chosen combines different scales of observation, historical sources, and actors; therefore, exploring specific configurations in context leads us to reconsider the idea of a uniform – or even, similar – passage towards nationality.

11Most of the articles focus on how individuals acted upon and negotiated around nationality with administrative instances, thus exploring other aspects of a history of belonging. Yet this history is not totally free from the norm. T. Jaulin’s article, using the writings of Lebanese jurists and ideologues from the 1920s to the 1940s, interrogates the representations that these norms brought about. At the same time, this history of belonging is not only shaped by the promulgation of laws and state references. The articles take some distance from teleological narratives, like the myth of “francisation” (of “becoming French”), which in the case of Algerian Jews and Jews residing in Algeria “would have been a linear process, one that was fundamentally positive and/or unanimously wished for” and “which would have given birth in these people to an unconditional attachment to the French nationality” (Le Foll Luciani).

12More generally, the hypotheses mapped out in these studies are close to the conclusions of Mary Lewis’s latest book (2013) on how French colonial authorities in Tunisia defined two spheres of sovereignty: namely, that the history of nationality is always reoriented by permanent interactions between the administered, administrators and regional powers, who must constantly respond to the wishes, reclamations and strategies elaborated not only by individuals but also by other state administrations, which can sometimes be competitors or negotiation partners. According to what Lewis has called the “geography of powers,” phases of nationalization could, of course, have existed, but they were by no means stable moments which could serve as models. To take up the conclusion of Hugo Vermeren in this special issue, the adoption of laws and practices of nationality and, in a more general manner, the nationalization of lands, goods, and objects were not planned – these were the result of constant adaptations. The smuggling of official documents or the migration between sovereign territories – whether official or clandestine – cannot be considered a residue or aftermath of ancient times, when nationality was not the main component in the general economy of belonging. Rather, they constituted resources to negotiate rights. These practices testify to the survival of alternative practices of belonging for those who see nationality as first and foremost as the “right to have rights” (Weil 2011).

13This idea of constant interactions does not invalidate the chronologies of norms being established but, in fact, allows other dynamics to come to the surface. According to the same perspective, Mary Lewis’s work helps to outline an alternative history of nationalism in the times of the protectorate or mandate. In this other history, nationalism is not established to give birth to a nation; rather, nationalism gives another understanding to the nationality laws that colonial authorities had already implemented, thus creating other links between nation or nationality. In a fundamental way, then, this “nationalism” helps to remodel inherited sovereignties.

14The first part of this dossier proposes other readings of the period before nationalist times. The two articles in this section uncover reflections and practices of precolonial nationality. In the Tunisian case, the Constitution of 1861 as well as a draft law in the 1870s (before the French conquest and the linking of the state through belonging to Islam) represent alternatives to reconceptualize nationality. In the Algerian case, as Nourredine Amara shows, divergent narratives “of the self” during the taking of Algiers in 1830 created temporal rifts and gave birth to demands of belonging. These demands were formulated in terms of patronage but also asking for French nationality in the case of Amîna Hanım, daughter of the last Ottoman governor of Algiers, Husayn Dey. According to an archaeology of nationality, it would be interesting to imagine and study the potential connections between such “precolonial” knowledge and practices and those which were forged throughout the 20th century. For example, one could look to the possible correlations between North African or reformist Muslim nationalism (McDougall 2006) and a language of state belonging formulated by Tunisian ulemas in the 1870s (a case analyzed by Fatma Benslimane in this special issue).

The state facing individuals

15In this special issue nationality when approached under the angle of states and empires is understood according to three configurations. Fatma Benslimane foregrounds an imperial configuration that brings a unique perspective to the question of nationality through her case study of the determination of the nationality of the caid Nessim Scemama. A caid of the Jews of Tunis and the leading financier of this ancient Ottoman province, Schemama fled to Paris in 1864 and ended his days in Livorno. Tunis was at the time an autonomous province of Istanbul where the Ottoman law on nationality of 1869 was not even considered relevant. The stakes surrounding nationality were high due to rivalries between European powers. They were also visible in the specific cases of former government officials of the province having fled to Europe after having stolen from public coffers. The case of Nessim Schemama but also that of financier Mahmoud Ben Ayad (exiled in Paris since the 1850s) led other dignitaries in Tunis to instigate a defense and conception of nationality well before the promulgation of the 1914 Tunisian nationality law. These conceptions of nationality were thus already being debated before they were formalized and enshrined in the law.

16In the ancient provinces of the Ottoman Empire passing under the control of European state powers another form of articulation between imperial, state, and population forces arose in the case of mandates, and notably the British mandate in Palestine and the French mandate in Syria and Lebanon (studied in this issue by L. Banko, Ph. Bourmaud, and Th. Jaulin, respectively). According to the mandates conferred by the League of Nations, laws on nationality were put in place during the 1920s with some caution to accommodate local imperial legacies, the multiplicities of belonging, and specific wishes in the local population for the system of governance.

17The last case, that of Algeria, brings out the third and final configuration of nationality in this special issue: here again we have an ancient province of the Ottoman Empire but in this case one that became French territory. Due to the presence of a minority of French citizens, colonial administrators had to confront the question of juridical belonging for three distinct groups in Algeria: ancient subjects of the province of Algiers living in and outside a territory that became French (N. Amarra), Jews, coming for the most part from North African communities, installed in Algeria (Le Foll-Luciani), and immigrants coming from Europe, most notably Italians who came before and after the unification of their homeland (H. Vermeren).

18In these different cases, as certain of the contributors point out, state conceptions of nationality, laws issued from these conceptions, and the practices of identification were often the source of well-known efforts to control populations (by including or excluding them from the group defined as nationals). For the most part, this manipulation was a response to pragmatic ends. Therefore nationality was aimed at “attracting customers” and offering them “an incentive to both buy into the colonial order and to curb any attempt at subverting this order” (Ph. Bourmaud). To follow the hypothesis of Nourredine Amara, “naturalizing is less about making fellow citizens as it is rendering the defeated indigenous population natural subjects of power … making them accept the unequal rules of the game.” This policy was also fed by a philosophy, an evolutionary, even racialist, conception: the idea of degrees of civilization was translated by the League of Nations into a typology of mandates while the policy on nationality was influenced, for the British Empire, by the writings of John Stuart Mill, who judged that civilization could only be attained at a certain level of development (L. Banko).

  • 5 The following works cited by Nourredine Amara in her dissertation appear relevant: Pierre Arminjon, (...)

19These conceptions and practices led to diverse spatial and territorial efforts of imposing state sovereignty. These efforts were linked to conflicts over material resources and the mediation abilities of local authorities. In the first case, that of conceptions arising out of the Scemama case, this territorialization was broad. During the case the representative of the Tunisian state put forth the idea that nationality referred to a trans-state Muslim belonging. Against those who argued that in public law nationality was a concept foreign to Islam, the representative of the Tunisian state expressed the idea that nationality was, for the Muslim believer, both a relationship to the state and a category of belonging.5 As such, nationality was thus inherent in his or her being and transcended his or her free will. In the other cases raised in this special issue, this territorialization is limited to more tightly restrained state spaces. The imposition of a juridical conception of nationality does not automatically coincide with the territory of the nation-state. In Algeria there was a desire to spread French laws throughout Algerian space and, at the same time, to mark out specificities, distinctions, and discriminations. For its mandates, the British distinguished Palestine from other British territories. For these cases of territorialization, jus soli, the criteria of residence and notions of “the sense of return” should be more closely examined.

20For each territory, several parameters condition the imposition of nationality laws and joint efforts to establish state sovereignty. On a global scale, the international mechanisms surrounding nationality laws are often not taken into account or are at the very least not well historicized in studies on nationality. In this special issue, Ph. Bourmaud fills this gap by reflecting on the effects of international systems like that of the League of Nations on nationality. He shows that if the League of Unions influenced “the functioning of nationality by establishing precedents for it,” it failed to respect the framework for establishing these various nationalities, namely the principles attached to the instauration of mandates.

21At a medium level of analysis, between empires and the states resulting from these empires, the practices, conceptions, and territorial inscription of nationality were also due to the circulation of norms and experiences. In 1873, in the case of the caid Nessim Scemama, an Italian vice-consul in the Tunisian city of Sousse sought out judicial opinion in a form of a fatwa that presented as Islamic an aspect of the French legislation on nationality of 1867: namely, the “three-year clause” – the length of time after which a subject residing abroad lost his or her original nationality. These circulations reveal that imperial legacies (namely Ottoman political, administrative and social heritages) also produced lasting effects on regimes of belonging. European colonial powers had to make do with the first laws on nationality and the identification procedures established in Istanbul, Cairo, and Tunis (Herzog 2011), accommodating the ancient phenomenon of protection and the logics of belonging which did not accord either with the state power or that of the colony or mandate (family, tribal or Muslim referents). These colonial administrations could then be divided on the ways in which the categories of the national was defined. Thus, in the Palestinian case, there was rarely agreement in the early 1920s between London-based ministers of the Home, Foreign, and Colonial Offices and the colonial administration in Jerusalem on how to define a Palestinian.

22At a final level, the local, more complex conditions of establishment of nationality laws and imposition of sovereignty over territories arose. At this level of interaction one can see most clearly the impact of naturalization and nationalization not only on territories and subjects but also on property and goods. The case of Italian fishermen in the region of Bone/Annaba in the second half of the 19th century strikingly illustrates how the laws of nationality affected and brought together individuals, objects and spaces. This port city in the eastern part of the ancient province of Algiers was conquered by the French in the 1830s. From the conquest, French authorities who had sovereignty over territorial waters had to constantly compromise with the de facto monopoly held by fishermen of Italian origin. In the 1860s, one of the ways in which French sovereignty in these waters and especially over fishing resources was affirmed was through making the boats and part of the Italian crews who had access to this fishing wealth French. These fishermen were then incited to become French. But even in the final phase, a number of these fishermen made up their own combination between fishermen and boats of Italian origins on French territorial waters: they illegally resorted to French boats or false papers at each fishing season.

Individuals facing states

23The second aspect of approaching nationality concerns how “individuals perceive the categories of the national” and “what they do with them” (Saada 2007, 225). It appears that there is no simple answer as to how this is done. The majority of articles gathered here do not side fully with or deny entirely the notion of nationality as juridical belonging as nationality is not converted into a full identity. How can we probe the perspectives of the individuals involved and their changing viewpoints? The case studies in this special issue interrogate the amount of leeway and the forms and modalities of these adaptations. These actors are faced with constraints. Community leaders or notables can represent them in front of states. Other individuals are “taken into interstate relations which subordinate their choice to power priorities marked by nationalism” (Ph. Bourmaud).

24Even in a circumscribed field of analysis, though, a great number of responses and adaptations come out, resulting in either a formal acceptance of one or more nationalities (notably for the rights to which they give access to), a more or less partial refusal of nationality laws (because they give rise to distinctions and divide much larger social groups [L. Banko]), or, as in the case of fishermen in Bone, the norms imposed by nationality are reworked by a manipulation of the procedures of identification. In the elaboration of these various strategies, uprooted individuals or groups (in exile or as immigrants) play a pivotal role. The groups which appear in turn in this special issue – North African Jews installed in Livorno, Algerian refugees in the Ottoman Empire, Syrian-Lebanese residing in West Africa, and Palestinian-Americans – contribute to making their demands on nationality a tool of enlightenment for motherlands and a tool of negotiation for access to resources. From this point of view, N. Amara goes so far as to compare these actors and intermediaries to “courtiers of nationality” measuring the “comparative advantages between diverse offers of nationality,” thus perpetuating the logics already available in the system of capitulary protection. This can also be seen in the diverse ensemble of reactions in groups whose nationality and citizenship were put into question. After the 1940 annulment in Algeria of the Crémieux decree, some Jews desperately attempted to prove their citizenship; others, marked by this turn of events, moved towards Zionism or international communism; and some others opened themselves to a rapprochement with Muslims by building common political projects. This reminder about the diversity of strategies points to a marked tendency of recent historiography of colonial empires – namely, the idea that Europeans, Muslims, colonials, colonized, and administrators cannot be rolled up into the simple antagonistic categories of colonizers and colonized (Cooper 2005; Clancy-Smith 2011). But, once made, this reminder risks blurring these polarities, losing sight of the stakes and violence of colonial domination.

  • 6 We would like to thank Ben Smuin for drawing attention to this work.

25From another point of view, this insistence on action and performance attaches itself to the concept of “acts of citizenship” spelled out by Engin F. Isin (2009).6 For Isin, “acts of citizenship” include a series of actions, from petitions to physical resistance, undertaken by citizens as well as non-citizens in order to bring themselves together as a political entity or to find a position to claim rights. From this vantage point, it is not the institution of citizenship that leads a subject to act, but, rather, the subject who, by his or her acts, becomes a citizen. If a number of contributions approach this performative character, their authors do not go so far as to claim that the law is overridden: they do not consider that the law is a fiction or a purely stylistic structure. In her reconstitution of the trajectory of Amîna Hanım, N. Amara proposes a heuristic methodology which invites us to understand how actors strive to connect the law and personal stories, the law and its literature, in the sense of “discursive forms which speak of or support the law, or from which a juridical claim can be made, or which look at the law from such detours as fiction.” The stories of the taking of Algiers in 1830, as depicted and revisited by Amîna Hanım and her defenders, thus served as a base for negotiating a right, namely, the recognition of a pension and protection by the French state. Thus it is not solely from their actions but from their “narrative competence” (their ways of relating the event and of relating to the event) that actors define what for them constitutes the law (Zemon Davis 1988).

26This special issue historicizes the ways of organizing or arranging belonging by considering these self-narratives and the variety of actions surrounding nationality. If it is clear that other notions of belonging – familial, tribal, ethnic or religious – are not effaced with the instauration of nationality (Beaugrand 2009, 24), how can they be articulated with the coming of nationality (Sfeir 2008, 79)? Under what circumstances and through what interactions can a regime of belonging become invalid or another one come to impose itself? Nessim Scemama did not choose. He maintained his rights in one place and claimed other rights elsewhere, keeping his titles as a dignitary of Tunis, his relationships with his peers in the capital of this modest Ottoman province at the same time that he began the procedures to apply for French, and then Italian, nationality. In the case of Amîna Hanım, the requests and claims for rights can be understand in a continuum, as supporting a culture underpinned by patronage, social status and interpersonal dependence. According to another configuration, the Palestinians in the interwar period who did not wish to renounce to a regional anchor beyond the borders of the mandates, reformulated their belonging in confrontation with British authorities – even for those in exile in America. Among the Lebanese jurists and political thinkers studied by T. Jaulin, the principles of nationality and notably jus sanguinis seem, on first view, “to translate demographic and economic interests” in order to maintain a link with the Christian diaspora. On closer inspection, though, this pragmatism becomes more rigid: “the representation of Lebanon as a country of emigration comes to the fore as a consubstantial element to the notion of the nation perceived as a community of ancestors.”

Other Approaches: Governmentalizing the Family, Postnationality

27The organization and rearranging of belonging merit much more scholarly attention. In the same way, other themes broached in this special issue could be studied further. The stakes of family and lineage are crucial for nationality laws: parentage and progeny were reformulated by the law as mechanisms of state inclusion or exclusion while family relationships were brought under more and more state control (Gonon 1994; Sahlins 2000; Saada 2007, 268-269). From this point of view, studies have shown how nationality laws allowed for the control of women and wives, constraining them in their marriage choices by the threat of their nationality being forfeited (Bredbenner 1998). The articles in the first half of this special issue concentrate on women and their choices. But the archival holdings available to scholars do not always allow for us to reconstitute the family strategies and interactions between different family members when confronted with a decision on nationality. In the best of cases wives and daughters appear in inheritance conflicts, but in most cases naturalization is assimilated to the “act of a man who obligates his family” (Sayad 1993, 5).

28Due to the periodization chosen for this special issue (from 1830 to 1960), the articles reunited cannot touch a final issue of contemporary scholarship, that of nationality in a postcolonial situation, or the emergence of postnationality. The article by P. J. Le Foll Luciani shows postcolonial fragments of debates on Algerian nationality in 1963, when the national was defined as resulting from “at least two ancestors in the paternal line” “born in Algeria and who had the status of a Muslim.” These debates remain to be interpreted. Have the criteria for defining what constitutes “religious” changed meaning? Have Algerian lawmakers transformed what constituted in the colonial period a tool of exclusion into a political instrument in order to establish a majority? And this from an ancient body of indigènes, who were for a long time a minority?

29According to another perspective, the contributions refer to cases of statelessness: an Italian tribunal considers Nessim Scemama as dead without a nationality, Palestinian merchants and students residing abroad find themselves denied all protection by British authorities. But do these situations of statelessness prefigure, or are they comparable to, the situation of postnationality in the context of “globalization, the construction of supranational groups, the breaking up of diasporas between multiple juridical statutes” (Hanafi 2012)? Adopting the thought of Habermas to the Palestinian condition, the sociologist Sari Hanafi has recently evoked the option of postnationality, through which citizens having become cosmopolitan profit from an “intangible constitutional principle,” “constitutional patriotism … with a form of political and democratic organization which is no longer under the notion of a nation-state” (Sari 2012, 167). From this perspective, does the hope of postnationality allow for a liberation of this “nomos of the earth”? Or does it represent a new kind of cosmopolitan utopia, since nation-states remain the principal purveyors of “the right to have rights” (Weil 2011)?

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1 This issue of REMMM owes a lot not only to the authors but also to the efforts of meticulous readers and to Nicolas Michel, Isabelle Grangaud, Sylvie Denoix, François Siino and Danielle Rouvier, whom we all sincerely thank.

2 In this mindset, the French nationality is of a more political substance as it is linked to the territory and founded on jus soli, while German nationality is “spiritual and ethnic, founded on common ancestry” and jus sanguinis.

3 I follow here Isabelle Grangaud (2013), who defines this belonging as “registers to which individuals refer to in order to claim and defend their localized insertion in a political community.”

4 Moroccan dahir of 1958; Tunisian decree of 1963; 1970 ordinance overturning the 1963 law in Algeria.

5 The following works cited by Nourredine Amara in her dissertation appear relevant: Pierre Arminjon, “De la Nationalite dans l’Empire ottoman, specialement en Egypte,” Revue Generale de droit international Public (Paris: A. Pedone, 1901); Paul Ghali, Les Nationalites detachees de l’Empire Ottoman a la suite de la Guerre (Paris: Domat-Montchrestien, 1934); and Ahmad Rechid, “L’Islam et le droit des gens,” Academie de Droit International. Recueil des cours, 1937, vol. II, pp. 371-504.

6 We would like to thank Ben Smuin for drawing attention to this work.

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Electronic reference

M’hamed Oualdi, Nationality in the Arab World, 1830-1960: Negotiating Belonging and the LawRevue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [Online], 137 | 2015, Online since 04 June 2015, connection on 08 August 2022. URL:; DOI:

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