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Oct 16, 2018
The Daily Star
Lebanon: Future plans new nationality law
Abby Sewell| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Future Movement parliamentary bloc is preparing to introduce a proposal on the right of Lebanese women to confer nationality to their children, MP Dima Jamali told The Daily Star. Jamali, who is one of only six women in the 128-member Parliament after being newly elected in May, said she considers the nationality question a “human rights issue” and that Future leader Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has pushed the bloc to put forward a proposal to reform the law.
“As soon as we were elected, in one of our early meetings, the prime minister put this forward as a priority item to work on as part of the Future Movement cluster,” she said.
“We have drafted an initial legislation that supports the right of Lebanese women to give nationality to their kids, and we’ve just been waiting for the government to be formed and for the Parliament to resume its functions in full capacity to put this forward for voting and to take it to the next level.”
Despite nearly two decades of campaigning by activists, Lebanese women married to foreign men remain unable to pass on their nationality to their children.
Lebanese men married to non-Lebanese women are able to confer nationality to both their children and their foreign-born wives.
Previous legislative attempts have failed, but with May’s election, the issue appears to have gained new traction. In the spring, before the election, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said he planned to propose legislation that would allow Lebanese women to pass on nationality to their children except for those married to citizens of “neighboring countries,” meaning that those married to Syrians and Palestinians would be excluded.
The proposal was decried by activists as discriminatory and Bassil never actually introduced a bill.
In August, Progressive Socialist Party MP Hadi Aboul Hosn introduced draft legislation that would give women the same rights as men to confer nationality to their children and husbands, without exception.
The Future proposal, Jamali said, does not contain any exceptions based on nationality as in the Bassil proposal. But it would be more limited than the Aboul Hosn proposal, applying only to children, not to husbands, of Lebanese women.
Attempts to reform the nationality law have run into opposition based on fears of demographic change; Jamali said the question of granting spouses nationality has been more controversial than that of the children.
“I understand that this is proving to be a bit of a sensitive issue, that there are worries about how this is going to affect the demographic balance,” she said. “And I think this is something we need to work very hard to alleviate in order to not have real challenges or obstacles facing legislation that is long overdue, and that I consider to be very important.”
Advocates who have been pushing for legal reforms said they are waiting to see the proposal.
Mustafa Shaar, coordinator of the Jinsiyati Karamati (“My Nationality is My Dignity”) campaign, said he hopes the lawmakers will bring the proposal forward for “discussions with civil society, and we can negotiate this problem seriously for once.”
The campaign has opened an office in Tripoli with Jamali’s support, and is registering families with children who might be eligible for citizenship if the law changes.
“And we hope that [the MPs] who said they support this right will do something besides just talking about our rights without any action,” he said.
During a recent meeting with Human Rights Watch, Hariri also raised the possibility of some measures short of granting full nationality such as issuing a passport with some limited rights to the children of Lebanese mothers married to foreigners. Jamali said that possibility has also been part of the discussions around the new nationality law proposal.
Shaar said a limited passport or legal permanent residency could be “good as a first step” if it comes with all the social rights of citizenship, but that it should lead to full citizenship.
Karima Chebbo, coordinator of the separate “My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family” campaign, said the campaign would reject the idea of a limited passport.
“A right needs to be complete the right is nationality and nothing else,” she said. “It needs to be a complete right, without any bargaining.”
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