This week, Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, announced he would be submitting a draft law to recognize the right of Lebanese mothers married to non-Lebanese men to equality in passing on their nationality to their children. While this is a right that Lebanese women have waited for nearly a century, the proposed law is discriminatory and fatally flawed.
In Lebanon, under a 1925 law, women are not allowed to pass nationality to their children or their spouses, while men can pass nationality to their children, wife, or multiple wives. Children of Lebanese women and foreign fathers have been deprived of citizenship even if they are born and brought up in Lebanon. They are required to have residency permits to remain in the country, must obtain work permits, and face obstacles accessing education and healthcare.
The announcement, made on Mother’s Day, follows stepped up protests in recent weeks by a local campaign entitled “my citizenship is my dignity” which is calling for a non-discriminatory nationality law in Lebanon. The campaign quickly condemned this bill after the foreign minister’s announcement.
Lebanese authorities have often cited demographic problems if they allowed women to pass nationality to their children, but seemingly had no problem allowing men to do so. Initially these concerns were tied to the sizeable Palestinian refugee population – now estimated to be 174,000 – and now extend to the estimated million-plus Syrian refugee population in Lebanon. The foreign minister tried to allay these fears via two moves – prohibiting the nationality reform from applying to marriages with men from neighboring countries, and preventing Lebanese men from passing nationality to their spouse if she is from a neighboring country and any children from their relationship.
This is a bad compromise. It seems to merely mean additional children will be deprived of Lebanese nationality, and could in fact be rendered stateless.
Lebanon is far behind countries including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen which allow women to pass nationality to their children like men. It’s long overdue for any child with a Lebanese parent – mother or father – to be able to gain Lebanese nationality without any discrimination on the grounds of gender or which of their parents was Lebanese. They’ve waited long enough.