WED 13 - 11 - 2019
Date: Jun 5, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Officials to take their time on naturalization decree
Joseph Haboush & Sabine Darrous| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The controversial naturalization decree recently signed by President Michel Aoun that would grant Lebanese citizenship to over 300 people is being studied and the concerned officials said Monday they are “taking their time” before publicizing the final list of names. The decree, which will grant citizenship to 260 Christians and 115 Muslims, has caused an outcry in the country over the last week. As a result, Aoun tasked General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim over the weekend with vetting the listed names. Naturalization has been a controversial topic since the outbreak of the Civil War, mainly due to its implication on the country’s sectarian balance.

Caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk revealed that some names had been eliminated from the decree after the Lebanese government called for an investigation by the Lebanese Judicial Bulletin, the Internal Security Forces’ Intelligence Branch and Interpol. “

The decree has not been put on hold; rather we will take our time,” Machnouk said after meeting with Aoun at the presidential palace.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri called on anyone who has an objection to the decree to head to the judiciary, adding that the decree “is the right of the president.”

While it is not uncommon for outgoing presidents to sign naturalization decrees, Aoun diverged from his predecessors by doing so halfway through his second year.

Hariri asked reporters, “Do we reject giving citizenship to those who deserve it?” But the premier-designate admitted there are some names on the list he did not agree with and that the issue “needed consensus.”

The reported names on unofficial lists circulating across social media include Samer Foz, a Syrian businessman with reportedly close ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Foz spoke to LBCI Monday night from Beirut and said that he never filed citizenship paperwork. “I was surprised when I heard [Sunday] that I had asked [Ibrahim] to remove my name from the list ... and you can ask him if I ever submitted such paperwork,” Foz said in the interview.

Separately, Syrian national Farouk Dib Joud also denied claims that he was looking for Lebanese citizenship. In a letter to LBCI, Joud said his sons were looking to gain Lebanese citizenship in a lawful manner in order to facilitate their work and entry to and from Syria as a result of the international sanctions on the Syrian people.For his part, Machnouk struck a stern tone and played down the criticism directed at himself, the president and prime minister.

“Neither President Aoun nor Prime Minister-designate Hariri will back down unless there is concrete evidence. There is no need to defame people; if someone has serious evidence, let them present it,” Machnouk said.

In an apparent effort to put critics at ease, Machnouk announced that the Future Movement parliamentary bloc would submit a draft law to Parliament looking to naturalize the children of Lebanese women.

Earlier in the day, Machnouk met with Ibrahim to discuss the matter as well. “I agreed with Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim to conduct a fourth investigation of the names included in the naturalization decree,” the minister said.

Machnouk was not the only one to come out and speak about the decree. Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil stated Monday that neither Aoun nor the Foreign Ministry were “involved in any suspicious acts” regarding the decree.

Bassil called for a “serious and quick investigation” to reveal any discrepancies and claimed the uproar over the decree was part of a “campaign” against Aoun.

“The campaign we are witnessing now has clear goals which are to target the president and his tenure,” Bassil said, questioning why Hariri and Machnouk, whose signatures are also required, were not targeted.

“The campaign clearly aims at inflicting harm and spreading rumors instead of reform,” he said, during a news conference from the Foreign Ministry. He added that the investigation currently underway would reveal if any faults were committed.

While the law does not stipulate that such decrees must be made public in the Official Gazette, Bassil called on General Security to publish the names included in the decree to dismiss rumors and offer public clarification.

Although he said his ministry was not involved in the decree that does not carry the signature of the foreign minister, Bassil said he is tackling the issue out of the ministry’s concern over who has the right to Lebanese citizenship.

He called on Aoun to continue granting citizenship for “deserving cases,” so long as it is carried out in a transparent process, adding that he rejects granting citizenship in return for money.

“There are countries who require [that people applying for citizenship] pay money to get it. We say that our citizenship is not for sale,” Bassil said.

Bassil added that individual naturalization should be granted to people with Lebanese mothers, stateless individuals and others whose citizenship would provide a perceived benefit to the country.

This latest naturalization decree comes after judges struck down Article 49 of the 2018 Budget Law, which afforded temporary residency to foreigners who acquire ownership of a house or apartment in Lebanon.

Critics claimed that the measure would have allowed for the permanent settlement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The Constitutional Council annulled the article on May 14.

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