Lebanon’s naturalization debate: FM Bassil targeted over ‘racist’ remarks
Syrian refugee children prepare to board a school bus at an unofficial refugee camp in Lebanon's town of Bar Elias in the Bekaa Valley on May 13, 2016. (AFP/Joseph Eid)
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The “My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family” Campaign lashed out Monday at Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, describing his approach to granting Lebanese citizenship as “racist” and unfair to Lebanese women, who can’t pass on their nationality. Bassil, a strong supporter of encouraging the diaspora to claim Lebanese citizenship, highlighted once again last week that everyone of Lebanese origin should be given citizenship. “We don’t want to naturalize Syrians and Palestinians, but we want to naturalize our Lebanese children and people abroad; if the Lebanese identity dissolves, Lebanon vanishes,” Bassil said during the launch of the national campaign to promote citizenship for those of Lebanese origin.
“Every person of Lebanese origin should gain his nationality no matter what his sect is, and every non-Lebanese on Lebanese soil shouldn’t be given the nationality no matter what his sect is,” he added.
“My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family” quoted his remarks in a statement in which it harshly criticized Bassil, saying it felt “disgusted” by such positions.
“This isn’t the first time that such racist statements are made by politicians, ministers and lawmakers in power, and in particular by Minister Bassil, who never misses any chance to exhibit his plan that refuses to give Lebanese women the right to grant citizenship to their families,” the statement read.
Lebanese women married to foreigners are currently not permitted to pass their citizenship on to their husbands and children, a right many have demanded for years.
Political parties have cited demographic and sectarian concerns to justify the restriction, claiming that overturning it could disrupt the country’s delicate sectarian makeup, referencing Palestinians in particular, who are predominantly Sunni.
Along with other officials, Bassil has on multiple occasions rejected the possibility of naturalizing Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
The Parliament approved a draft law allowing foreigners of Lebanese origin to apply for citizenship in November 2015. The Free Patriotic Movement, headed by Bassil, and the Lebanese Forces were major proponents of the law. Both are predominately Christian parties.
Paragraph A of the law’s sole article refers exclusively to the male parentage of potential Lebanese citizens. In May, Bassil said Lebanese diplomatic missions in countries with large diaspora communities would begin procedures for people of Lebanese origin to gain citizenship.
In response the campaign emphasized its position that Lebanese women currently living in the country should have priority over the diaspora in gaining citizenship, as many of the latter may not have been to Lebanon for years. “As if Lebanese women aren’t from our people and their children are not our children, your excellency,” the campaign statement said. “The decaying of the nation will come from marginalizing and raping the rights of Lebanese women and denying them freedom to be full citizens.”
There are millions of people of Lebanese origin residing in other countries, including a large number of Christian Lebanese living in Latin America.
By Ghinwa Obeid