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“The first appearance of refugees as a
mass phenomenon took place at the
end of World War I, when the fall of
the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and
Ottoman empires, along with the new
order created by the peace treaties, upset profoundly the demographic
and territorial constitution of Central
Eastern Europe. In a short period, 1.5
million White Russians, seven hundred
thousand Armenians, five hundred
thousand Bulgarians, a million
Greeks, and hundreds of thousands of
Germans, Hungarians, and Romanians
left their countries. To these moving
masses, one needs to add the explosive
situation determined by the fact that
about 30 percent of the population in
the new states created by the peace treaties
on the model of the nation-state
(Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, for
example), was constituted by minorities
that had to be safeguarded by a series
of international treaties – the so-called
Minority Treaties – which very often
were not enforced. A few years later, the
racial laws in Germany and the civil war
in Spain dispersed throughout Europe
a new and important contingent of
refugees. 

We are used to distinguishing
between refugees and stateless people,
but this distinction was not then as
simple as it may seem at first glance,
nor is it even today. From the beginning,
many refugees, who were not
technically stateless, preferred to
become such rather than return to
their country. (This was the case with
the Polish and Romanian Jews who
were in France or Germany at the end
of the war, and today it is the case with
those who are politically persecuted or
for whom returning to their countries
would mean putting their own survival
at risk.) On the other hand, Russian,
Armenian, and Hungarian refugees
were promptly denationalized by the new Turkish and Soviet governments. It
is important to note how, starting with
World War I, many European states
began to pass laws allowing the denaturalization
and denationalization of their
own citizens: France was first, in 1915,
with regard to naturalized citizens of
‘enemy origin’; in 1922, Belgium followed
this example by revoking the
naturalization of those citizens who had
committed ‘antinational’ acts during
the war; in 1926, the Italian Fascist
regime passed an analogous law with
regard to citizens who had shown themselves
‘undeserving of Italian citizenship’;
in 1933, it was Austria’s turn; and
so on, until in 1935 the Nuremberg
Laws divided German citizens into citizens
with full rights and citizens without
political rights. Such laws – and the
mass statelessness resulting from them
– mark a decisive turn in the life of the
modern nation-state as well as its definitive
emancipation from naive notions of
the citizen and a people. 

This is not the place to retrace the
history of the various international
organizations through which single
states, the League of Nations, and later,
the United Nations have tried to face
the refugee problem, from the Nansen
Bureau for the Russian and Armenian
refugees (1921) to the High Commission
for Refugees from Germany
(1936) to the Intergovernmental
Committee for Refugees (1938) to the
UN’s International Refugee Organization
(1946) to the present Office of
the High Commissioner for Refugees
(1951), whose activity, according to
its statute, does not have a political
character but rather only a ‘social and humanitarian’ one. What is essential is
that each and every time refugees no
longer represent individual cases but
rather a mass phenomenon (as was the
case between the two world wars and is
now once again), these organizations as
well as the single states – all the solemn
evocations of the inalienable rights of
human beings notwithstanding – have
proved to be absolutely incapable not
only of solving the problem but also of
facing it in an adequate manner. The
whole question, therefore, was handed
over to humanitarian organizations and
to the police.

The reasons for such impotence lie not
only in the selfishness and blindness of
bureaucratic apparatuses, but also in
the very ambiguity of the fundamental
notions regulating the inscription of
the native (that is, of life) in the juridical
order of the nation-state. Hannah
Arendt titled the chapter of her book
Imperialism that concerns the refugee
problem ‘The Decline of the Nation-State
and the End of the Rights of
Man’. One should try to take seriously
this formulation,
which indissolubly
links the fate of the
Rights of Man with
the fate of the modern nation-state in
such a way that the waning of the latter
necessarily implies the obsolescence of
the former. Here the paradox is that
precisely the figure that should have
embodied human rights more than any
other – namely, the refugee – marked
instead the radical crisis of the concept. 

The conception of human rights based
on the supposed existence of a human
being as such, Arendt tells us, proves
to be untenable as soon as those who
profess it find themselves confronted
for the first time with people who have
really lost every quality and every specific
relation except for the pure fact
of being human.
3 In the system of the
nation-state, socalled
sacred and inalienable human
rights are revealed to be without any
protection precisely when it is no
longer possible to conceive of them as
rights of the citizens of a state. This is
implicit, after all, in the ambiguity of
the very title of the 1789 Déclaration des
droits de l’homme et du citoyen
, in which it
is unclear whether the two terms are to
name two distinct realities or whether
they are to form, instead, a hendiadys
in which the first term is actually always
already contained in the second. 

That there is no autonomous space
in the political order of the nation-state
for something like the pure human in
itself is evident at the very least from
the fact that, even in the best of cases,
the status of refugee has always been
considered a temporary condition that
ought to lead either to naturalization or
to repatriation. A stable statute for the
human in itself is inconceivable in the
law of the nation-state.

It is time to cease to look at all the declarations
of rights from 1789 to the
present day as proclamations of eternal
metajuridical values aimed at binding
the legislator to the respect of such
values; it is time, rather, to understand
them according to their real function
in the modern state. Human rights, in
fact, represent first of all the originary

figure for the inscription of natural
naked life in the political-juridical
order of the nation-state. Naked life
(the human being), which in antiquity
belonged to God and in the classical
world was clearly distinct (as zoe) from
political life (bios), comes to the forefront
in the management of the state
and becomes, so to speak, its earthly
foundation. Nation-state means a state
that makes nativity or birth [nascita]
(that is, naked human life) the foundation
of its own sovereignty. This is the
meaning (and it is not even a hidden
one) of the first three articles of the
1789 Declaration: it is only because
this declaration inscribed (in articles
1 and 2) the native element in the
heart of any political organization that
it can firmly bind (in article 3) the
principle of sovereignty to the nation
(in conformity with its etymon, native
[natío] originally meant simply ‘birth’
[nascita]. The fiction that is implicit
here is that birth [nascita] comes
into being immediately as nation, so
that there may not be any difference
between the two moments. Rights,
in other words, are attributed to the
human being only to the degree to
which he or she is the immediately vanishing
presupposition (and, in fact, the
presupposition that must never come to
light as such) of the citizen.

If the refugee represents such a disquieting
element in the order of
the nation-state, this is so primarily
because, by breaking the identity
between the human and the citizen
and that between nativity and nationality,
it brings the originary fiction of
sovereignty to crisis. Single exceptions
to such a principle, of course, have
always existed. What is new in our time
is that growing sections of humankind
are no longer representable inside the
nation-state – and this novelty threatens
the very foundations of the latter.
Inasmuch as the refugee, an apparently
marginal figure, unhinges the
old trinity of state-nation-territory, it
deserves instead to be regarded as the
central figure of our political history.
We should not forget that the first
camps were built in Europe as spaces
for controlling refugees, and that
the succession of internment campsconcentration
camps-extermination
camps represents a perfectly real filiation.
One of the few rules the Nazis
constantly obeyed throughout the
course of the ‘final solution’ was that
Jews and Gypsies could be sent to
extermination camps only after having
been fully denationalized (that is, after
they had been stripped of even that
second-class citizenship to which they
had been relegated after the Nuremberg
Laws). When their rights are no
longer the rights of the citizen, that is
when human beings are truly sacred, in
the sense that this term used to have in
the Roman law of the archaic period:
doomed to death. 

The concept of refugee must be resolutely
separated from the concept of
the ‘human rights’, and the right of
asylum (which in any case is by now
in the process of being drastically
restricted in the legislation of the
European states) must no longer be
considered as the conceptual category

in which to inscribe the phenomenon
of refugees. The refugee should be considered
for what it is, namely, nothing
less than a limit-concept that at once
brings a radical crisis to the principles
of the nation-state and clears the way
for a renewal of categories that can no
longer be delayed. 

Meanwhile, in fact, the phenomenon
of so-called illegal immigration into the
countries of the European Union has
reached (and shall increasingly reach
in the coming years, given the estimated
twenty million immigrants from
Central European countries) characteristics
and proportions such that this
reversal of perspective is fully justified.
What industrialized countries face
today is a permanently resident mass of
noncitizens that do not want to be and
cannot be either naturalized or repatriated.
These noncitizens often have
nationalities of origin, but, inasmuch
as they prefer not to benefit from their
own states’ protection, they find themselves,
as refugees, in a condition of de
facto statelessness. Tomas Hammar has
created the neologism of ‘denizens’ for
these noncitizen residents, a neologism
that has the merit of showing how the
concept of ‘citizen’ is no longer adequate
for describing the social-political
reality of modern states. On the other
hand, the citizens
of advanced industrial
states (in the
United States as
well as Europe)
demonstrate, through an increasing
desertion of the codified instances
of political participation, an evident
propensity to turn into denizens, into
noncitizen permanent residents, so
that citizens and denizens – at least
in certain social strata – are entering
an area of potential indistinction. In
a parallel way, xenophobic reactions
and defensive mobilizations are on the
rise, in conformity with the well-known
principle according to which substantial
assimilation in the presence of
formal differences exacerbates hatred
and intolerance.”

– 

Giorgio Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights.” Open, Social Engineering issue, 2008/No. 15

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“The [Egyptian] citizenship law category consternation just described echoes the confusion of European-trained census takers who worked to measure the Egyptian population in the late nineteenth century. … In a sense, the malleable landscape of nationalities reflected in
these censuses appears a category game, in which the population was reclassified by different criteria each decade. As we will see in the next section,
however, nationality was anything but an abstraction: in the complex legal
landscape of turn-of-the-century Egypt, nationality determined jurisdiction
over the bodies of the territory’s subjects.  The confounding incoherence
of nationality categories in the Egyptian census shows that in a system of
overlapping sovereignty, identification is performative. Egyptians and Otto-
mans were labeled not for their own needs – the labels entailed no access
to rights – but for presentation to their imperial administrators. Like
nationality law, the census provides only unsteady ground for the study of
Ottoman-Egyptian citizenship.

The 1882 census was hardly the first to categorize Egypt’s population
by national type. The 1800 Description de l’Egypte described eight groups:
Egyptians, Turks, Arabs, Moors (specifically, Maghrabis), Greeks, Syrians,
Jews, and Europeans. The 1840 census divided the population between those under local authority (dakhil al-hukuma) and those beyond government authority (kharij al-hukuma).  A contemporary study of the 1855
cholera epidemic differentiated between eleven categories: Europeans,
Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Israelites, Natives, Turks, Maghrabis,
Barbaris, and Blacks.  

The 1882 census employed a new hierarchy of three major categories
(settled native, nomad, and foreigner), each of which was subdivided into
minor categories. The decennial censuses of 1897, 1907, and 1917 reduced
the decisive split to foreign and local. Local subjects (as opposed to foreigners) were subdivided in the four censuses in question… 

…four main groups adulterat[ed] a vision of a purely
Egyptian local population: Ottomans, Bedouins, Sudanese, and local subjects of European origin (such as Greeks). The 1897 census divided the local
population much as the one in 1882, but Sudanese were dropped, and the
divide between settled and nomadic Egyptians was set aside. Sedentary,
Bedouin, and Ottoman were all clearly labeled as “real” Egyptians. In 1907,
Sudanese reappeared, and certain Ottomans were divided into four “local”
nations. The 1907 census was the first since the inchoate Egyptian nationality law of 1900. Perhaps as a result, Ottomans appeared for the first time
as foreigners. Subdivision was extended ten years later: Egyptians were
distinguished according to sect, and four new miscellaneous population
categories were added. But only now, once it was divided in a dozen ways,
did “local” emerge as a distinct, collective category given a cumulative population figure of its own. In previous years, census makers offered an aggregate total of foreigners but never of local subjects. 

From the time of the 1882 census, settlement was the hallmark of a
national population; Bedouins and foreigners were anomalous because they
were mobile. Although the desert and sea hinterlands of the Nile valley
were sites of problematic flux, “real” Egyptians were suitable f(n· counting
because they were tied to the land and isolated from other nations. Turkish
and Syrian immigration had slowed, and Europeans were now the principal
immigrant group. Their “distinct social and political behaviour (al-mukhtalijiyin mashraban/situation sociale et politique apart) prevent[ed]
them being confused with the native population (zummt al-wataniyin),”
which was agrarian and sedentary. The census makers claimed that this
distinction was “social and political”; in reality, it was jurisdictional. Bedouins and foreigners were considered separately because they were exempt from the laws that governed other subjects. The distinction between real
Egyptians and all others made operative sense in terms of 1880s domestic
policy, according to which dangerous Bedouins were to be taken under
government control, foreigners were to be protected, and settled natives
were to be taxed. 

Nonstandard subjects were deficient subjects, and they tarnished the
census project. In an opening apologia, the authors of the 1882 census
distinguished their work, which only measured de facto population, from
the study of resident population that a proper European state required.
Only the systematization of civil status would make such a project possible
in Egypt. In other words, something like “indigenous nationality” had to
be clearly defined if Egypt was to join the community of nations. Subsequent censuses track the progress of this project. By 1917, a full range of
local nationalities joined the foreign diversity previously on display. It is
no surprise that census counts of national groups in Alexandria were as
inconsistent as the categories themselves. Although the overall population
of the city increased steadily from census to census to census, the share
assigned to each group fell and rose and rose and fell. 

Faced with these unwieldy categories, social historians are as otibalance
as the legal scholars cited in the previous section. Daniel Panzac has produced several studies of the population of nineteenth-century Egypt in
which he displays careful critical faculties. His suspicion of uneven growth
rates, for instance, leads him to a radical departure from census figures of
Egypt’s aggregate population.  But where nationality is concerned, his
work is in the thrall of the census and its categories and content to trace a
smooth growth rate for the foreign population, ignoring the fact that Ottomans appear and disappear from the census figures. Other studies of the
censuses avoid this trap, but their critical approach toward statistics rarely
extends to the categories employed.  This remarkable omission manifests
the allure of dividing population into singular nationalities that seem to
possess some inherent validity discouraging critical probing. 

Three pieces of evidence call into question the national categories of
identity used by census takers: the changing stock of categories used; the
inconsistent statistics that they produced; and the calculated, nuanced performances that court documents demonstrate lay behind most black-and-white claims to nationality. Census
makers certainly witnessed the same genre of performance on polling day.
Little is known of the details of their data collection.”

– Will Hanley, “When Did Egyptians Stop Being Ottomans? An Imperial Citizenship Case Study.” in Willem Maas (ed.), Multilevel Citizenship. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. pp. 89-109.

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“Ironically, the British occupation of Egypt in 1882 and the Veiled Protectorate that followed did much to bolster notions of Egypt’s national
independence. During the early years of the occupation, the situation of
Egypt vis-a-vis the British and Ottoman Empires was characterized by two
fictions. Public discourse pretended that the Ottomans retained a measure
of control over Egypt and that Egypt retained a measure of independence
from Britain. In official correspondence, Egypt was carefully and consistently referred to as al-qutr al-misri, the “Egyptian region.” It was also
referred to with safe synonyms for “region,” such as tarafand diyar. In
the interests of pragmatism, oppositional political strategy was structured
around opposition to British imperial control. The nationalist discourse
that emerged in the 1890s appeared to instrumentalize (or even marginalize) Ottomanism in order to address the BritishY Nevertheless, it seems
that the Veiled Protectorate instilled its narrative of light, almost imperceptible rule successfully: Britain’s influence over Egypt’s citizens is obscured
in historical memory.

Although Britain drew most nationalist political fire, the Ottoman
Empire remained the key referent for Egypt’s elite political and intellectual
culture, even as late as the turn ofthe century. Egyptians were active observers of, and indeed participants in, the Ottoman reform movements of the
early twentieth century. Egypt is often portrayed as a site of exile for Young
Turks, but it was not merely an inert foreign land. Just as the United
States of America remained (and remains) in the cultural, economic, and
indeed political sphere of the British empire long after independence, so
too did Egypt remain part of the Ottoman commonwealth. This commonwealth was most visible in the writings of a small intelligentsia. The Ottoman Empire experienced a brief episode of constitutionalism and limited
representative government in 1876 and another starting in 1908. Egypt,
meanwhile, had no constitution or elections until the 1920s. Government
was for bureaucrats, not citizens, and political discourse was the realm of
journalists and a handful of elite activists.

A whole literature endeavors to define Ottomanism, and it is by no
means unusual that this elusive label should fail to fit Egyptians exactly. Ottoman citizenship, the central concern of this chapter, had its first legal
articulation in 1869.  The idea of citizenship was foreign to the nineteenth-
century Ottoman Empire; the great Egyptian chronicler of Napoleon’s 1798
invasion merely transliterated the term: sitwayan. The Arabic jinsiya (related to “genus”) came to designate “nationality.” Even the neologism for
national citizen (muwatin) does not designate the rights-bearing liberal
subject of a certain vision of Western citizenship. Subjecthood, on the other
hand, has a more stable Arabic and Ottoman vocabulary, in common usage
during the nineteenth century. The Arabic/Ottoman term tab’iyat/tabiiyet
derives from tabi’/tabii, meaning subject (of a state or sovereign). But the
truly stable term is the eighth-century reaya, for “flock” or “subjects.”

The relationship of shepherd (the Ottoman sultan) and flock (his subjects) was based on protection and loyalty rather than sovereignty and allegiance. This tie was bolstered by the sultan’s role as caliph, or earthly head
of the Islamic commtmity. Even when his secular powers were limited, the
Ottoman sultan maintained spiritual dominion, to which Egypt signaled its
symbolic loyalty. The province was given the right to mint its own currency
in 1834 (a mark of monetary autonomy), but this token of independence
bore the sultan-caliph’s name (his tugra) until 1914. The same name was
invoked at Friday prayers throughout this period. On this basis, more
recent scholarship argues that as late as 1905, “in the final analysis, the
majority of Egyptians considered themselves to be Ottoman subjects,” and
those interested in forging an independent Egypt pursued a policy of de-Ottomanization as a result. Ottoman wars were increasingly defined as
Islamic, and enthusiastic moral and material support from Egyptians during the Italo-Turkish war over Libya (1911-1912) were the last great sign
of Egypt’s Ottoman affiliation. The fact remains, however, that the sultan’s
direct control over his Egyptian flock was definitively supplanted by his
own governor during the 1830s. After that point, Ottoman sovereignty was
reduced to suzerainty and symbolic payment of tribute; no more Egyptian
troops fought Ottoman wars.

If the sultan retained only spiritual and symbolic authority over his
Egyptian subjects, his nominal subalterns enhanced direct sovereignty at
the provincial level. The upstart governor Mehmet Ali and his descendants
used the techniques of modern control to extract ever more military, agricultural, and public works labor from Egyptians. The debt crisis of the
1870s and British occupation of the 1880s transferred much of this dominion to the European comptrollers who directed the Egyptian economy. The
Egyptian state, ftguratively controlled by the Ottomans and literally controlled by the British, communicated with its subjects through its officials.
These agents of the “local government”- tax collectors, police, and local
headmen – articulated economic, legal, and military subjecthood at the
local level.”

– Will Hanley, “When Did Egyptians Stop Being Ottomans?
An Imperial Citizenship Case Study.” in Willem Maas (ed.), Multilevel Citizenship. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. pp. 89-109.

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