Friday, March 19, 2010

Article on Lebanese Nationality Law in the Kippreport

Lebanese, but not Lebanese
Link to full article

Mar 11th, 2010

Nationality is conferred on children by their fathers, not their mothers, an inequality that is meeting with increasing resistance in Beirut.

At a recent Sunday luncheon in an upscale suburb of Beirut, a Canadian friend and his Lebanese wife introduced their newborn son to family and friends. The proud father sported a button on his lapel, proclaiming his support for a women’s issue that is becoming a hot topic of debate in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East.

Translated from the Arabic, the message contends: “My Nationality: For me and for them!”

In much of the region, nationality is conferred on children by their fathers, not by their mothers. In Lebanon and elsewhere, this inequality is meeting with increasing resistance, as more families call on their governments to recognize the citizenship of children born to parents of mixed nationalities.

“When the laws in most countries in the MENA and Gulf regions say that a citizen is someone born of a father of that country only, this clearly says that the state considers that only men are real citizens,” contends Lina Abou-Habib. She is executive director for the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A) – a non-governmental feminist organization based in Beirut, and working across the MENA and Gulf regions.

“Being denied the right to nationality directly [means] being denied social, economic and political rights,” Ms. Abou-Habib explains, hinting at the complex social issues that underlie the nationality debate.

For years, lawmakers have argued that mother to child nationality legislation would jeopardize religious or cultural stability. A draft law which would see equality between the genders in granting nationality rights was submitted to the Lebanon Parliament in May 2009, but has not met with much support.

The matter is particularly sensitive in Lebanon, where the confessional system of government performs a delicate balancing act among the diverse religious and ethnic constituency – distributing political power proportionally among the religious groups.

However women’s rights advocates challenge this notion, questioning the assertion that the prevalence of marriages between Lebanese women and non-citizens is high enough to effect changes in the political balance. Rather, activists highlight the many barriers to heath care, education, civic participation, and employment opportunities that hinder children of mixed nationality families.

“For me, the situation is not problematic, because my husband is British,” one mother explained.

“Children of European or American fathers don’t face the same difficulties as those of Palestinian or Syrian fathers, for example – sometimes these children cannot even attend school,” she added.

Under the current legislation, children born to a foreign father often face costly legal and social difficulties, and are obliged to obtain residency permits, which must be renewed regularly.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. The document addresses discriminatory practices against women and outlines an agenda for ending these practices.

While many countries in the region have ratified CEDAW, articles related to the nationality debate have been largely excluded by governments in the region. Issues of inheritance and conflicts with religious law are often cited for the exclusions.

But change is in the air, as governments in the region are increasingly considering amendments to their nationality codes. The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reportedly studying the options for restructuring the country’s nationality legislation. Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria have all adopted legislation that ensures a mother’s right to pass on her citizenship.

In an online petition, the Nationality Law Project is collecting signatures in an effort to pressure lawmakers to overturn Lebanon’s 1925 Nationality Law. The comments of the signees are testament to the complexities of the debate, invoking concerns as diverse as patriotism, cultural belonging, economic opportunity, and family heritage. Lawmakers will have their work cut out for them.

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