The new law to reinstate nationality to immigrants of Lebanese origin is confessional and sexist

Wed, 12/30/2015

Twelve years after the submission of the law proposal to reinstate Lebanese nationality to immigrants, and four years after its endorsement by the Cabinet during the mandate of former President Michel Suleiman, the House finally approved it during its session on 12/11/2015 after it was placed on the House discussion agenda following intense negotiations and following its endorsement by the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement MPs.

To be noted that MP Nehmatallah Abi Nasr submitted the original law petition back in 2003. However, it remained dormant until 2011 before resurfacing in the discussions of the Cabinet after introducing a discriminatory provisions stating that only immigrants of a Lebanese male descendant (father or grandfather) may claim reinstatement of their Lebanese nationality. According to the newly approved law, immigrants of Lebanese origin may request the reinstatement of their Lebanese nationality in case they fulfil either one of two conditions: 1) If the person is listed in the civil register or if their father or father’s male relatives of the fourth degree are listed in the census undertaken after the declaration of the Lebanon’s great state, i.e. the registers of 1921-24 or the 1932 census (as resident or immigrant); or 2) if the person or any of their male relatives are registered on the records of the residents in 1932 according to the Lausanne convention of 1924 and the Nationality law dated 19/1/1925.

The passing of the law was hailed by its supporters as an important step toward redressing the demographical imbalance in the country in favour of the Christian population. However, the new legislation was also met with strong condemnations ranging from contesting its confessional nature to stigmatising its clear discrimination against women. Passing of the law was preceded by intense negotiations between the Lebanese Forces, Free Patriotic Movement and the Phalangist Party. In the course of political manoeuvring, the Future Movement for its part attempted to introduce several conditionalities to the law namely that the intended beneficiary be requested to reside at least five consecutive years in Lebanon a matter which was deemed unrealistic. The Future Movement also attempted to link the passing of the law with granting Lebanese women the right to transmit their nationality to their children, a link which was utterly rejected by the other protagonists namely the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gibran Bassil, who issued a particularly racist and heinous statement in which he refused trading the “naturalisation of authentic Lebanese” by others who are “Syrians and Palestinians”. The dissent continued up till the House session of 12/11/2015 in which the Assembly voted for the new law with the blessing of the Future Movement.

This political toing and froing was accompanied by the organisation of a public sit in, by the Campaign “My Nationality is a Right for me and my Family” on 4 November 2015, during which the Campaign activists expressed their rejection of the law project because it excluded women’s right to transmit their citizenship. The Campaign also issued a statement on 9 November 2015 officially reiterating its position while qualifying Bassil’s statements as both racist and sexist.

Furthermore, and following the endorsement of the law, Fahmiyyeh Sharafeddine, a leading women activist, wrote an article in which she criticised the law for being patriarchal in nature and for discriminating against women, while concluding that the current political system in Lebanon will remain a key obstacle for the reform of nationality laws.