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Lebanon Citizen Law: Marrying a foreigner strips the Woman of her Identity and property

There are about 450,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon and they cannot own properties and are even barred from working in 20 nominated professions, says an estimation done by UN.

BEIRUT- Nadise Moussa could have been more proud as a mother when her teenage daughter was selected for a national Lebanese team for football. But, never had she thought that the celebrations will not last long and her daughter’s dreams will be shattered.

Women like Moussa, who are married to foreigners, cannot pass on their National identity to their husbands or children. Not just that. The children cannot even inherit or own their parent’s property.

Moussa said with a deep regret, “She was selected and then told she was not allowed on the team because she is not Lebanese.” The news left her daughter devastated and she stopped playing football after that as she felt excluded and rejected in her own country.

“I have always felt like a second-class citizen, being deprived of the right to give my nationality to my children and my family, said Moussa, a lawyer, long-time activist and Lebanon’s first female presidential candidate.

A Lebanese woman during the 2006 Lebanon war. Image source: Wikipedia
A Lebanese woman during the 2006 Lebanon war. Image source: Wikipedia

According to the law, if you are married to a foreigner, the children cannot access public health or education. Not just that. Even when they are old enough, they cannot work without a permit. Moussa’s two daughters are and will be going through the same state.

According to a 2009 study, Predicament of Lebanese Women Married to Non-Lebanese, the Labanon law has affected more than 77,000 people in a negative way.

Situations are even worse for Lebanese women who got married to Palestinian men, as Lebanon Law denies any right to own properties by Palestinians in Lebanon.

The campaign to reform the nationality laws across the Middle East can be dated back to more than 14 years. Since then, most of the Arab countries including Saudi Arabia have fully or partially reformed their nationality laws, said Lina Abou Habib, the executive director of the Collective for Research and Training on Development Action.

Law imposed on Palestine workers restricts them from 20 nominated jobs. Image source: theguardian.com
Law imposed on Palestine workers restricts them from 20 nominated jobs. Image source: theguardian.com

Male politicians in particular, justify the rule of inheritance as they feel “if you reform the law then all Palestinian men will marry Lebanese women and they will never return to Palestine, thereby taking away the right of Palestinian refugees to return home,” Abou Habib said.

There are about 450,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, according to the estimation done by The United Nations. They enjoy only limited rights- cannot own properties and are even barred from working in 20 nominated professions.

While many people in the nation are dealing with identity crisis, opponents argue that Lebanon law is valid as it maintains a delicate religious balance between Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ite and Druze. Opponents feel that if the women gain nationality rights, it would mean Muslims might further outnumber Christians, which will threaten the existence of Christians in Lebanon.

With the crisis in Syria now entering its sixth year, Syrian refugees are making up one-quarter of Lebanon’s population. Few also argue if women have the right to nationality, Syrian men will marry Lebanese women and will never return to Syria.

Activists, including Abou Habib interviewed for this story and have rejected the arguments and termed them as racists. He feels that these people who support this kind of law are exploiting sectarian fears in order to deny women their rights.

“There is no link between women’s nationality and the issue of Palestine or the country’s religious make-up or the Syrian crisis. At the end of the day, what is true is that the state does not recognize women as citizens,” she added.

In 1925, under the French Mandate of Lebanon, the law was issued which states that a person will only be considered Lebanese if born to a Lebanese father.

The Foreign Minister of Lebanon, Gebran Bassil who leads Christian party- The Free Patriotic Movement, has voiced some of the loudest opposition to the reform of Lebanon’s nationality laws. He sponsored a bill in November 2015 that would grant citizenship to Lebanese expatriates but not to the spouses of Lebanese women. (Reuters)

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