In Lebanon, women give birth but not nationality
Beirut - Samira could not have been more proud when her 16-year-old son Moussa was among the highest scoring students on official exams in Lebanon but her happiness was short-lived because Moussa had to immigrate to Sweden to study the subject he loves most, forensic medicine.
“Being a non-Lebanese, he found out that he could not practise medicine or any other profession that requires him to be part of syndicates which restrict membership to Lebanese nationals. That was a big shock for him,” said Samira, who requested her last name not be used.
Under a 1925 citizenship law, women such as Samira who are married to foreigners cannot pass on their Lebanese nationality to their husbands or children who are considered like any other foreigners. They are denied work in a number of professions, need to have residence and work permits and are not covered by social security.
Despite being a good student, Moussa could not enroll in a public school when his family was no longer able to pay for private schooling. “When I tried to register him I was told that by minister’s order priority is given to Lebanese students and that foreigners, even if their mothers are Lebanese, are placed on waiting lists until the registration of Lebanese is completed. This is pure racism!” an outraged Samira said.
Pressing for Lebanese women’s citizenship rights has topped the civil society agenda for more than a decade since the My Nationality is a Right for me and my Family campaign was launched in 2002 as part of a bid to reform nationality laws across the Middle East by the Collective Research and Training on Development Action (CRTDA), a non-governmental organisation.
Many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have reformed citizenship laws since. Lebanon, which boasts about being the most liberal country in the region, however, has not, observed Karima Chebbo, who leads the legal unit in the campaign.
“In 2004, the law was amended in Egypt, in 2005 in Algeria, in 2007 in Morocco. Lebanon, Bahrain and Jordan are the only Arab countries where women do not have the right to give their nationality to their children and foreign husbands. Even in Syria, they were about to amend it [before the war],” Chebbo said.
Lebanese officials and politicians have always provided a set of arguments to justify their refusal to give women the citizenship right, mainly the fear from upsetting the demographic and sectarian balance in the country. They argue that this will be an incentive, especially for the mostly Sunni Muslim Palestinian refugees, and lately Syrians, to marry Lebanese women to establish nationality and resettle in Lebanon.
“This is absurd,” Chebbo said. “How come Lebanese men married to Syrians or Palestinians or any other nationality can grant the citizenship to their partners? Don’t they cause a demographic imbalance? It is pure discrimination against women and an insult to them to insinuate that they could be easily manipulated and abused by foreign suitors.”
In recent remarks reportedly made to Lebanese expatriates in New York, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said he would be willing to support an amendment to the discriminatory laws if it included an exception that would bar women married to Palestinian and Syrian refugees from passing on citizenship to their spouses and children.
“He (Bassil) is effectively implying additional discrimination against Lebanese women,” Chebbo argued. “Discrimination is not only between men and women but between women themselves, those who are married to Palestinians and Syrians and the rest. It is triple discrimination.”
According to Predicament of Lebanese Women Married to Non- Lebanese, an analytical study conducted in 2009, more than 77,000 people are affected by the citizenship law. The estimate, however, is not considered accurate as many Lebanese women married to foreigners are not settled in Lebanon or have not registered their marriages in their home country.
Being married to an American, Nadira Daaboul had to be separated from her family. Her eldest child studied medicine but he has gone to the United States because he cannot practise in Lebanon. The youngest will be leaving soon to become an airline pilot as the Lebanese flag carrier, MEA, employs Lebanese pilots only. Her husband, an engineer, is employed in Saudi Arabia because he cannot work in his profession in Lebanon.
“It is my right as a Lebanese citizen to give my nationality to my children, for them to live in my country. They spent all their life in Lebanon, went to school in Lebanon, and half of their blood is Lebanese. They don’t understand why they are treated like strangers,” Daaboul complained.
Chebbo said the discriminatory citizenship law is a blunt violation of the constitution, which says male and female citizens are equal before the law and have equal rights and responsibilities.
“Our objective is to ensure gender equality, regardless of who Lebanese women marry, be it Palestinians or Syrians or anyone else. The law says citizenship is transmitted through bloodline,” Chebbo said. “Are the babies of Lebanese women married to foreigners placed in an incubator or do they develop in the wombs of their mothers?”