Controlling Communities: Citizenship and Revocation

Political communities are fundamentally exclusionary projects, defined by what they are not. Such a claim is essential and inherent to the emergence of contemporary political projects, often delineated by territorial borders. For Hans Lindahl, “no political community is imaginable […] that does not close itself off as an inside over against an outside. Moreover, and no less importantly, by closing itself off as an inside with respect to an outside, a community posits a space as its own”. Such a view reveals the metaphysical characteristics of a community but it also provides awareness of the normative dimensions that regulate the political behaviour, shaped not only by the intricacies of local interactions but also broader geopolitical trends that shape life. In the contemporary world, however, with the movement of peoples, ideas and capital, such closure is increasingly problematic.

This bounded view of a political community is echoed by Hannah Arendt who suggests that “all legislation creates first of all a space in which it is valid, and this place is the world in which can move in freedom. What lies outside this space is lawless and properly speaking without a world”. Building on this and the notion that the closure of space conditions the possibility of citizenship, Arendt argues that the world gains meaning through the interaction of people, their words and deeds. Yet those whose citizenship is revoked then become stateless and, in Arendt’s view, they become “without world”, cast aside by the community that once laid claim to their membership. This process of revocation is a fundamentally a mechanism of control, a tool of sovereign power designed to regulate the community and to punish those who challenge it, using the biopolitical machinery of the state in an attempt to close the community off against an outside.

Such contestation is a common feature of contemporary political life, yet it is not solely a product of modernity. Within the context of a region where political communities were established on pre-existing communities, it is easy to see how the creation of states creates tension between traditional and modern forms of political organisation. These problems are especially pertinent in the Middle East, where a range of traditional forms of organisation run alongside the structure of sovereign states. A number of states in the Middle East are comprised of ethnic and religious minorities that possess links – real or perceived – with other communities beyond the borders of the state, seemingly challenging the closing off of the community against an outside.

From this, efforts to close off the community against an outside are undermined by fears about the loyalty of those on the inside of the community. Central to this is thought that identities are themselves the bearers of political – and indeed security – perceptions, further complicating the closing off of a community. Efforts to regulate the community and ensure its loyalty manifest in a plethora of forms, yet it frequently includes revocation as a tool to help define the community, closing it off against what it is not, even if this involves dealing with perceived threats from the inside. It is with this position in mind that we can see how regimes across the Gulf are taking the decision to revoke citizenship, responding to fear and concern about penetration of the community or the erosion of a particular vision of identity by closing the community off against those from within who are seen as challenging it.