What must it be like to find out second-hand, with no warning or explanation, that the country in which you were born and bred has suddenly stripped you of your nationality?
This week, citing a 1963 law, Bahrain’s interior ministry announced that 31 opposition figures are to have their nationality removed and effectively become stateless people.
A ministry statement said the Citizenship Law permitted the “re-evaluation of nationality” and that the decision was “in conformity with the kingdom’s commitments under international law”.
But the move has baffled even a government official who said he was trying to get answers from the ministry.
On Friday, I met up with two of the newly “denationalised” Bahrainis in London. Brothers Jawad and Jalal Fairooz, both former MPs from the mainstream political opposition movement al-Wefaq, were in a state of bewilderment and despair.
“What should I do? Where should I live? What country will accept me?” asks Jalal Fairooz, one of several opposition MPs who resigned from parliament during last year’s uprising.
He and his brother Jawad tell me they were both born and bred in Bahrain, as was their father. Their mother, originally from Iran, became a naturalised Bahraini citizen.
Like most of the 31 names on the list, neither brother has any other citizenship. After midnight on Wednesday, the ministry said they had been stripped of their nationality on grounds of national security, giving no details, adding only that they had the right of appeal.
“My daughter collapsed when she heard,” said Jalal Fairooz. “She was unable to sit her exams the next day. My wife was crying. I don’t know how I’m going to support my family now. I have never even been accused of anything before now.”
“I still don’t know on what basis they reached this decision,” said his brother Jawad, who has been simultaneously handed a 13-month sentence in absentia for participating in illegal gatherings last year.
“I have had no chance to defend myself. What can I do? If I go back now definitely they will take my passport and arrest me.”
On Friday, the British Foreign Office said: “We remain deeply concerned at the ongoing tensions in Bahrain which have seen protests banned, citizens stripped of their nationality and the tragic death of a protester today.
“We have made clear to the Bahraini government the importance of acting with restraint and in line with international law. We condemn attempts to provoke violence on the streets, which only hinders attempts at reconciliation and should be condemned by all sides.”
The US state department said it was greatly concerned by the move, while the human-rights group Amnesty International said: “It’s a frightening, chilling decision which we want to see rescinded. Making people effectively stateless is prohibited under international law.”
The Fairooz brothers are both Bahraini Shias and, as leading members of the political movement al-Wefaq, they have been campaigning peacefully for a more equal distribution of power and wealth in the country which is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy.
Their views may not be popular with the sizable Sunni minority in the country, many of whom believe they can maintain the status quo.
But the Fairooz brothers represent the more moderate wing of the opposition. They are a far cry from the masked petrol bomb-hurling activists who are terrorising neighbourhoods and clashing with police almost every night in the villages west of the capital Manama.
Suited and eloquent, these former MPs are adamant they do not want to overthrow the ruling family. They just want a constitutional monarchy with an elected executive.
Hardline Sunnis often brand all members of the al-Wefaq party “Iranian-sponsored traitors” bent on turning Bahrain into an Islamic republic and satellite of Iran.
But both brothers insisted to me they had no contact with Tehran. “We want Bahrain to be an independent Arab country but we want it to be democratic. We need a democracy, not a theocracy.”
So what will become of this pair, now they have been made stateless?
Both are in Britain on temporary visit visas and Jawad’s runs out next month. One is staying in a flat with friends, the other in a hotel.
“I was due to go back tomorrow,” said Jalal, “but if I fly they will grab me and put me in jail and strip me of my identity. I would have no ID card, I would not even be able to open a bank account. I have no idea what I am going to do.”