By Anna Louie Sussman
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Before Lebanon's June 7 election, politicians raised hopes that a law barring women from passing citizenship to their children would be overturned. Now a leading advocate feels betrayed.
BEIRUT, Lebanon (WOMENSENEWS)--In the month leading up to Lebanon's June 7 parliamentary elections, the streets and highways were filled with posters promising change and slogans about national unity.
For Roula Masri, the signs only remind her of broken promises.
Masri, coordinator of a national campaign to change Lebanon's law prohibiting Lebanese women from passing on their nationality to their children, had every reason to expect it would be rewritten in May or June.
Before the election, representatives of nearly every political party either publicly or privately, stated their support for amending the law, says Masri.
And during the campaign, activists with the nationality campaign, organized by the Collective for Research and Training on Development - Action, based in Beirut, met with several of the country's most powerful politicians, thinking it was a good time to build political support.
The list included President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, a former human rights lawyer appointed last July.
Baroud told the news Web site MENASSAT in late May that a draft law prepared by campaigners and the Ministry of the Interior would likely be moved into the legislative docket in the "near future."
He said he was "optimistic the Lebanese Parliament would approve the law in the end."
One of his representatives promised Masri the law would be passed before the elections, she told Women's eNews.
But May came and went. The election came and went. And the draft law never came up in Parliament.
"Publicly, every party agrees to pass this law and vote for it," Masri says. "It must be a lack of political will. When it comes to translating these verbal commitments into action . . ." She trails off, looking disappointed.
"It's politics," she resumes. "This is a highly politicized issue."
Lebanon's 1925 nationality law grants citizenship to those born of Lebanese fathers, those born on Lebanese soil to unknown parents and those born in Lebanon who are otherwise stateless.
Article Seven of Lebanon's 1926 constitution says all Lebanese are equal before the law.
But in 1997, when Lebanon ratified the U.N.'s 1979 Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, it entered a reservation to the stipulation that women have equal rights with men in passing on nationality to their children.
Some politicians justify this reservation by arguing that the large numbers of male Palestinian refugees living on Lebanese territory will marry Lebanese women only to gain citizenship.
Cedar Mansour, a senior administrator at Lebanese American University, rejects such arguments. "I do not care about their justifications," she says. "It's denying women a basic human right."
Mansour, who practiced immigration law in the United States as an attorney in Washington, D.C., and Virginia, says there are ways to prevent marriages of convenience. "If the intention is to prohibit the use of marriage to resettle Palestinians in Lebanon, then scrutinize the marriage. You have the right to examine if it is a genuine marriage or not."
Initial drafts of research due for release in July and conducted by the Lebanese Women's Rights and Nationality Law project, and sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, found that 17,860 Lebanese women are married to foreign nationals, mostly from other Arab states and Europe.
Including spouses and children, around 80,000 people, or approximately 2 percent of Lebanon's population, are affected by this law.
Without citizenship, husbands and children must apply year after year for renewal of their residency and are barred from some social services, including free public schooling and medicine.
Sitting in a garden cafe in Beirut, Dr. Namir Damluji, a psychologist now living in California, bristles at the situation during a recent visit here.
Damluji was born in 1952 on Lebanese soil to a Lebanese mother and an Iraqi father. He grew up in Lebanon until the age of 11, and in 1978, married his Lebanese wife. He has American and Iraqi citizenship, but under the current Lebanese law he is not a citizen of Lebanon.
"I am more Lebanese than the Lebanese!" he shouts. "These politicians are really saying that they believe women should be in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant….This law says that because you are a woman, you are less than a man. My mother, daughter and wife are as good as any Lebanese man."
Anna Louie Sussman is a freelance writer based in Beirut, Lebanon. Her work focuses human rights and women's rights issues, the environment, food and design.
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