Manama: Non-Muslims could be granted the Kuwaiti citizenship if two proposals approved by the parliamentary legal and legislative committee is supported by the parliament and the government.
The proposals submitted separately by MP Safa Al Hashem and by MPs Ahmad Fadhl and Khalid Al Shatti called for amending the 1959 citizenship law to allow the granting the Kuwaiti citizenship to applicants who are not Muslim.
The law currently stipulates under Item 5 of Article 4 that the Kuwaiti nationality may be granted by decree upon the recommendation of the Minister of Interior to any person who is an original Muslim by birth, or that he has converted to Islam according to the prescribed rules and procedures. It also stipulates that a period of at least five years has passed since he embraced Islam before the grant of naturalisation.
“Nationality thus acquired is ipso facto lost and the Decree of naturalisation rendered void ab initio if the naturalised person expressly renounces Islam or if he behaves in such a manner as clearly indicates his intention to abandon Islam.
In any such case, the nationality of any dependent of the apostate who had acquired it upon the naturalisation of the apostate is also rendered void.”
The other four requirements are residing in Kuwait for at least 20 consecutive years or for at least 15 consecutive years if he is an Arab belonging to an Arab country, has lawful means of earning his living, is of good character and has not been convicted of an honour-related crime or of an honesty-related crime, has knowledge of the Arabic language and possesses qualifications or renders services needed in Kuwait.
The parliamentary committee had long opposed amending the law to drop the religion requirement, but endorsed it this time after three of its members had resigned.
However, the proposal, promoted as achieving fairness and equal chances for all, may not pass the parliament currently dominated by conservatives.
Challenging the current law
In December 2014, the late independent lawmaker Nabil Al Fadhl challenged the constitutionality of Article 4 in the Citizenship Law.
“This is a Christmas gift for our Christian brothers,” Al Fadhl, the father of Ahmad who submitted the proposal this time, said after filing his petition to the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the northern Arabian Gulf country.
Al Fadhl said that the condition was a constitutional and legal stigma.
“Those who added this condition to the Citizenship Law in 1981 are lawmakers who did not rise to the significance of their oath as they were sworn in as members of parliament,” he said.
“Such an article is a disgrace to the law and does not in any way reflect the values of the Kuwaiti people.”
The Muslim-only restriction was reportedly introduced in 1981 by MPs Ahmad Al Saadoon, Mohammad Al Marshad and Mohammad Al Rasheed.
Al Fadhl attributed his decision to seek an amendment to the Citizenship Law at the Constitutional Court and not at the parliament to his wish to avoid splitting conservative lawmakers.
“I wanted to avoid any form of embarrassment to the lawmakers and to keep away from differences in viewpoints in the parliament,” he said.
When in January 2014, MP Al Hashem suggested cancelling the condition that restricted naturalisation to Muslims, saying that it was not in line with the text and spirit of the constitution.
She was, however, opposed by several lawmakers who said that the focus should be on granting the Kuwaiti citizenship to the Muslim Bidoons, stateless people, living in Kuwait.
Al Fadhl died in December 2015 during a session of the parliament.
250 Kuwaiti Christians
The overwhelming majority of Kuwaiti citizens are Muslims.
Around 250 Kuwaitis are Christians who were granted the citizenship before the article restricting naturalisation to Muslims was introduced.
They are mainly from Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine.