The surprising and sometimes scandalous story of twenty-first-century citizenship
The buying and selling of citizenship has become a thriving business in just a few years. Entrepreneurs and libertarians are renouncing America and Europe in favor of tax havens like Singapore and the Caribbean. But as journalist Atossa Araxia Abrahamian discovered, the story of twenty-first-century citizenship is bigger than millionaires seeking their next passport.
When Abrahamian learned that a group of mysterious middlemen were persuading island nations like the Comoros, St. Kitts, and Antigua to turn to selling citizenship as a new source of revenue after the 2008 financial crisis, she decided to follow the money trail to the Middle East. There, she found that the customers of passports-in-bulk programs were the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, oil-rich countries that don’t want to confer their own citizenship on their bidoon people, or stateless minorities who have no documentation.
In her timely and eye-opening first book, Abrahamian travels the globe to meet these willing and unwitting “cosmopolites,” or citizens of the world, who inhabit a new, borderless realm where things can go very well, or very badly.
“Writing with pace and passion, Abrahamian weaves together her narratives with considerable journalistic flair. She intertwines [her narrative with] the ancient idea of cosmopolitan citizenship and its idealistic modern advocates. She sees the growing market in citizenship as the corruption and commercialization of this idea by a global business elite.” —Richard Bellamy, The New York Times Book Review
“Over two thousand years ago, Diogenes declared himself a kosmopolites—citizen of the universe—but who are the cosmopolites of today? The search for answers takes Abrahamian, a reporter for al-Jazeera, on a global mission.” —Kristin Surak, London Review of Books
“A sharp, compelling, and often humorous book about the evolution of citizenship and the rise of a new form of statelessness.” —Fatima Bhutto, The Nation
“I would recommend The Cosmopolites, a book by Atossa Abrahamian about the economics of nationality acquisition. Rich globals can whisper through EU passport controls with a Maltese passport and their money can be shielded by US portfolio managers. Most people will be waiting in line eternally, holding their wads of rupiahs and shillings.” —John Dizard, The Financial Times
“Abrahamian’s first-rate book marks the extremes of statelessness, from the purchasing power of the global jetsetter with multiple passports to the life of the stateless refugee now pawned for political capital. The Cosmopolites is remarkable for the way it teases out the very current contradictions of global citizenship, and for how it suggests that our notions of cosmopolitanism have become outdated and platitudinous. It’s amazing that this is a first book; you’d think the author had been researching it all of her life.” —Flavorwire
“This fascinating and lucid bit of reportage investigates the birth of the citizenship industry, in which tax havens and micro-nations sell passports to Middle Eastern millionaires, stateless populations, and the new ‘international’ class which occupies a new world without boundaries or state-imposed limits.” —The Believer
“Can cosmopolitanism advance human rights and claim high-minded ideals, when muddled, exploitative politics often follow in its wake? Abrahamian’s reporting is not a call to dispense altogether with the contradictions of the modern nation-state. Rather, it is a clearer demand for a better set of contradictions, which support the identities and participation of people who are now stateless living in societies that seek to expel them.” —Daniel Solomon, The New Republic
“A fiercely reported case study of the ‘financialization’ of citizenship and the burgeoning global business of buying and selling passports.” —Linda Kinstler, Politico Europe
“Abrahamian’s meticulous and intricate examination excels, and not just in its focus on the capitalist middlemen.... Instead, her story, like most modern tales of the global economy in the age of income inequality, vacillates between the haves and the have-nots, the ‘one percent’ and everyone else.” —Jared Keller,Pacific Standard
“An intriguing, thoroughly reported look at the evolution of nationality and citizenship, and how the latter is quickly becoming a marketable commodity to the world’s well-heeled jet set, while remaining heartbreakingly out of reach for those who need it most.” —Jake Flanagin, Quartz
“Abrahamian’s fluently told, fast-paced story takes her around the world.... A slim but powerful book of great interest to students of international law and current events.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Citizenship, the common thinking goes, not only determines our opportunities (a decent education, gender parity) and our allegiances (in sports as in war), but is also elemental to our sense of self. Citizenship cannot be reduced to a commodity—can it?” —Megha Majumdar, The Rumpus
“Mixes terse accounts of the unintended effects of globalization with explosive bursts of dark humor.” —Max Holleran, Public Books
“A perceptive, brilliantly reported investigation into the ways in which the forces of globalization are fundamentally changing the conceptualization and practice of nationality. This is that rare thing: a book filled with news.” —JosephO'Neill, author of Netherland and The Dog
“Deeply and vividly reported, of a scheme in the United Arab Emirates to provide passports to its thousands of stateless people (who are stateless for reasons that are very interesting—it’s a bit dizzying, honestly) by buying them in bulk from another country.... Like the best journalism, the best fiction, its telling reminds us that all the familiar furniture of our world—our economy, our politics—is temporary, purchased at a flea market not so long ago, destined to be shipped out again.” —Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Global Citizenship: a discussion with Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, Joseph O’Neill, & Rosalind C. Morris
About the author
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian is an opinion editor at Al Jazeera America, a longtime editor and contributor at The New Inquiry, and a contributing editor to Dissent magazine. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York magazine, the London Review of Books, and other publications. She has also worked as a general news and business reporter for Reuters. She grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, and studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Columbia University, where she returned to study investigative reporting at the Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in Brooklyn. @atossaaraxia
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1991, while she was under house arrest by Myanmar’s ruling military junta. Freed in 2010, she was finally able to travel to Sweden to deliver her acceptance speech in 2012, using the occasion to describe visiting migrant workers and refugees in Thailand who, as she… more
In 2012, when I was ordered out of Mexico for over-extending a student visa, I took a quick trip to Guatemala, flashed my United States of America passport at a guard, paid a one-peso fee, and clacked through a turnstile. In the shadow of the bridge I had just walked over, inner tube rafts loaded… more