Lebanese women sue for naturalization rights

Lebanon's naturalization laws forbid Lebanese women from passing on citizenship to their spouses or their children, but there are signs from within the Lebanese government that years of campaigning by activists are having an effect. MENASSAT takes a closer look.

BEIRUT, April 28, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Samar Shoubassi has been married to an Algerian citizen for 27 years. A mother of three children who are all university graduates, none of them can work legally in Lebanon because they are deprived of Lebanese citizenship.

She was among a group of female demonstrators from the northeastern Bekaa region who gathered outside of the Interior Ministry in Beirut on Monday (April 27) to sue for naturalization rights to be extended through Lebanese women.

The “My nationality: A right for me and my family”” campaign was launched seven years ago, demanding equality between men and women to grant their spouses and children Lebanese citizenship when it comes to marrying a foreigner – a right only given to men in Lebanon.

A draft law prepared by campaign organizers and the Interior Ministry is to be presented before the Cabinet, approved, and moved towards the Lebanese Parliament for final approval - or not.

My Nationality campaigners enlisted the support of Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, who answered questions and explained the constitutional background of the demands.

The parties also discussed the ministry's plans “to correct a mistake that started in 1925 – the issue date of the nationality law.”

Some women exempt

The minister stressed his support for the cause, calling the law gender "discriminative" for only recognizing the blood relations passed down from the father.

At the same time Baroud said that while the primary concern was for children of Lebanese women unable to receive Lebanese citizenship, women would also be able to grant naturalization rights to their husbands. He stressed that measures would need to be taken to prevent people for marrying solely for citizenship papers.
Baroud said that two prevailing political attitudes needed to be discussed before any legal amendments were made to the existing laws.

“The first is that there should not be any exceptions as long as we recognize the concept of equality stated in the constitution. The second opinion speaks of a constitutional text banning the naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon, which means that the father cannot be Palestinian.”

The minister also spoke of a move to exclude women married to Iraqi refugees. In both cases, political insiders say the policy of denying naturalization rights for Iraqi and Palestinian men married to Lebanese women is part of an "unofficial" policy for protecting the delicate confessional system in Lebanon.

Still, most of the women that attended this week's demonstration are married to Arabs and have been faced with a litany of financial worries because their children and spouses have been unable to benefit from national social safety nets.

Shoubassi told MENASSAT that her husband left Lebanon because staying in the country required placing 20 million LL in a Lebanese bank. “And we sure don’t have that amount of money. We don’t even have 1500$ to pay so my children can work in Lebanon without fearing the authorities.”

Baroud hopeful law will pass

Motiaa Shouman is a mother of four who is married to a Syrian. She said she feels helpless despite the sacrifices she has made for her two boys and two girls because she feels is unable to guarantee her children a decent future.

Shouman told MENASSAT that she doesn’t mind if her husband is denied Lebanese nationality - "as long as my children can have it."

“We work to teach our children but with what future? This isn't fair," she said.

Hamda Khodr al-Ahmad, a mother of six (four girls and two boys), is also married to a Syrian citizen. She said that her children have no official identity papers because the law has prevented her. She added that the civil war also prevented her children from obtaining Syrian papers.

Ilham, who works as a farmer and is married to an Iraqi, told MENASSAT at the demonstration on Monday that residence permits for her children were prohibitively high, although she pointed out that the permit itself says it is free of charge.

Ilham also claimed that members of Lebanon's General Security had attempted to bribe her in order to send her children's residency paperwork to the proper departments. She recounted a story in which her son was arrested and detained for six months after trying to enter Lebanon after the Lebanese Embassy in Baghdad refused to grant him a visa. He was released only after she paid 950,000 Lebanese lire ($630).

At the demonstration in front of the interior ministry this week, women with the My Nationality movement were asked by reporters what they would do if the new draft law being proposed was not passed? They unanimously declared they would collect their identity cards and send them to the Interior Ministry with the sentence “returned with regards.”

Interior minister Baroud told MENASSAT he remains hopeful that change would come soon, adding that law would likely be moved into the legislative docket in the near future, and that the law would either by conferred by the Lebanese Cabinet or presented as an emergency law by the Parliament.
Baroud said he was optimistic the Lebanese Parliament would approve the law in the end.