North Africa, West Asia

Lebanese women and full citizenship rights: a mesh of patriarchy, politics and confessionalism

Despite some grandstanding by high-ranking politicians stating that Lebanese women should have full citizenship rights, these promises, needless to say, have so far come to nothing.

Sarah El-Richani
2 October 2013

A few months after the Lebanese “fromagistes” approved a watered-down version of a domestic violence bill after much campaigning and some tragedy, Lebanese women continue to face gender inequality in Lebanese citizenship laws.

Although women in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco have succeeded in acquiring full citizenship rights, citizenship in Lebanon remains masculinised and Lebanese women married to foreign men, as per the Lebanese Nationality Law (1925), are barred from passing their citizenship to their families.

Despite some grandstanding by high-ranking politicians such as caretaker - Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the jet-setting President Michel Suleiman, and the head of the largest parliamentary bloc Saad Hariri, stating that Lebanese women should have full citizenship rights, these promises, needless to say, have so far come to nothing.

A draft law proposed by campaigners was rejected in January 2013 with some citing and exploiting the paranoia relating to the “delicate demographic balance” and the naturalisation of the languishing Palestinian refugees. This excuse, however, overlooks that Lebanese men married to Palestinian women can pass on Lebanese citizenship, that the discriminatory law precedes the arrival of Palestinian refugees and that according to a 2009 study by Fahima Sharafeddine 21.7 percent of the estimated 18,000 women married to non-Lebanese men between the years 1995-2008, were married to Palestinians.

Meanwhile, in late 2011, a draft law was approved by the Council of Ministers granting emigrants of Lebanese descent the right to citizenship, undoubtedly in an attempt to restore some demographic balance. Citizenship was again only limited to emigrants with patrilineal affiliations. 

Worse still, the President, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior, it appears, have this year granted the elusive citizenship to 112 men and women. Drawing on a law dating back to the French mandate, the President has the power to grant Lebanese citizenship to individuals who have done Lebanon a “great service”. In a legal legerdemain the decree was not published in the official Gazette and therefore went unnoticed till Al-Jadeed TV and As-Safir daily reported it.

The Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel, infamous for his gaffes, claimed those individuals who were furtively naturalised “deserve to be naturalised”. Apart from the fact that this group appears to consist of friends or family of prominent Lebanese leaders, the “great services” these 112 have rendered to the precarious state remain unknown. 

Many Lebanese non-governmental organisations as well as political actors have threatened legal action particularly since Lebanese wives and mothers who have petitioned and lobbied the government repeatedly for their deserved rights have been overlooked. A case in point is the Lebanese widow who saw a landmark ruling in 2010 overturned and her right to grant her children citizenship withheld. 

In spite of this latest disappointment, the spirited activists of the Jinsiyati (My Nationality) campaign have vowed to continue the struggle for maternal jus sanguinis. Until this injustice - an outcome “of patriarchal confessionalism” in the state-is overcome, this is the only consolation. 

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