Denying Lebanese Women the Ability to Pass On Nationality

2020-10-14    |   

Denying Lebanese Women the Ability to Pass On Nationality
illustration by Rawand Issa

Of the many manifestations of gender inequality in Lebanon, one of the most prominent is the nationality law that the French High Commissioner of the Levant Maurice Sarrail issued via Decision no. 15 of 19 January 1925. This law restricts the ability to pass on Lebanese nationality via “blood right” [jus sanguinis] to Lebanese men. In other words, the law recognizes the right of Lebanese men married to foreign women to grant their nationality to their children (and spouses) without recognizing the same right for Lebanese women married to foreign men. Consequently, the children of Lebanese women married to foreigners face many day-to-day and legal obstacles because they are deprived of the rights to work, join syndicates, own land, and receive social benefits and many other rights that are contingent on Lebanese nationality.

 The issue of women’s right to grant their nationality to their children in Lebanon today is linked to two matters that appear in the Preamble of the Constitution and form its two greatest taboos. The first is Paragraph I’s prohibition of “settlement” or “naturalization” [tawtin, commonly understood as the permanent settlement and naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon]. The second is the “pact of coexistence” stipulated in Paragraph J and the demographic equilibrium it presupposes. Lebanon continues to use these taboos to bypass the principle of gender equality in this area and justify keeping its reservation to Paragraph 2 of Article 9 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women standing.

 Hence the need to examine the new legislative initiatives concerning women’s right to grant nationality to their children. Recently, Parliament has witnessed many bills addressing this issue. These bills can be split into two categories: those that merely grant the children of Lebanese women civil rights to compensate for the inability to grant them Lebanese nationality, and those that go to the extent of recognizing their right to nationality in general or subject to certain controls.


Civil Rights Instead of Nationality

 The idea of addressing the civil rights of Lebanese women’s children as compensation for the inability to grant them nationality traces back to the report submitted by the ministerial committee assigned by the Council of Ministers on 21 March 2012 to look into a bill to amend the nationality law. While the committee ruled out recognizing a Lebanese woman’s right to pass her nationality on to her children in the name of protecting “the demographic sectarian equilibrium in the country and the homeland’s paramount interest” after it became evident that more Muslims could benefit from this measure than Christians, it proposed recognizing certain rights for them, such as the rights to permanent residency without charge, to education and to enroll in all schools, institutes, and universities, to work in the private sectors, to medical and hospital treatment in the public and private health sector, and to receive Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Affairs, and National Social Security Fund benefits.[1]

 While the Council of Ministers adopted the committee’s works on 17 January 2013, it then took no steps to put them into effect. However, a number of proposals that went in the direction of implementing these recommendations were made. The most prominent include:


  • A bill proposed on 21 May 2019 by MPs Najib Mikati,[2] Ali Darwish, and Nicholas Nahas and then adopted in a legislative session on 26 June 2019. This bill exempts the children of a Lebanese woman married to a non-Lebanese man who have courtesy residency from having to obtain work permits (Under Decree no. 4186 of 31 May 2010, the General Director of General Security may grant the children of Lebanese women “courtesy” residency permits valid for three years, renewable). Even though the right, when granted in this manner, is contingent on obtaining courtesy residency and hence the discretion of General Security, it struck opposition from some parliamentary blocs (particularly Strong Lebanon, the Free Patriotic Movement, and Strong Republic). Likewise, on 25 July 2019 the president of the republic returned the bill to Parliament on numerous grounds, not all of which disputed the appropriateness of the legislature’s choice. Ultimately, the president deemed that “the problem of the rights of a Lebanese women’s children, which require a comprehensive treatment, are still subject to various approaches” and that the law therefore needed to be reexamined. The president ended his rejection of the law with the suggestion of giving children of Lebanese women married to foreigners priority over other foreigners “in the labor market by facilitating [their] work in Lebanon insofar as the labor market permits after accommodating the Lebanese”.


  • The bill submitted by MP Inaya Ezzeddine, president of the Parliamentary Committee on Women and Children, on 9 April 2019 and referred to the Administration and Justice Committee and the National Defense, Interior, and Municipalities Committee.[3] This bill is distinguished by its comprehensiveness as it stipulates granting the children of Lebanese women civil and social rights. The bill has just two articles, the first recognizing “all civil and social rights without exception” for people born to a Lebanese mother and foreign father and the second addressing the means of accessing these rights, namely merely producing the mother’s ID. The second article also enshrines their right to obtain a 10-year residency permit and a laissez-passer. The bill also opens the door for the children to receive National Social Security Fund benefits. The bill does not recognize any right for the spouses of Lebanese women. Nor does it define “civil and social rights”; instead, it merely lists some non-exhaustive examples, such as the rights to residency, travel, property ownership, medical treatment, work, and social security. To ensure the bill’s precision, it could be beneficial to either provide a clear definition of these rights or to specify the rights excluded, such as the right to vote or run for public office.


Bills Enshrining the Right to Nationality

Regarding the bills that grant the children of Lebanese women the right to acquire Lebanese nationality, there are two trends, one granting them Lebanese nationality unconditionally pursuant to the principle of gender equality and the other restricting this right with a series of controls and exclusions. In 2009, former minister of interior Ziyad Baroud submitted to the Council of Ministers a proposal that left it up to the council to decide whether to enforce equality and grant nationality to all Lebanese women’s children or to exclude the children born to fathers with no recognized nationality pursuant to the principle of rejecting settlement [most Palestinians in Lebanon are stateless].[4] However, the Council of Ministers approved neither formulation at the time.


Bills Based on the Principle of Gender Equality

 In this area, the first of the bills is the one submitted by MP Rola Tabsh on 14 May 2019,[5] which enshrines full equality between men and women with regard to the right to grant nationality to their children and spouses. The proposed text enshrines equality in a simple and explicit manner without restricting women’s right to grant nationality with any condition: it merely adds the term “Lebanese woman” or “Lebanese mother” wherever the term “Lebanese man” or “Lebanese father” appears in Decision no. 15 of 1925.

 The bill submitted by Democratic Meeting bloc MPs Taymour Jumblatt, Bilal Abdullah, Hadi Aboul Hosn, Marwan Hamadeh, Faisal Al Sayegh, and Akram Chehayeb on 23 July 2018 runs in the same vein.[6] It is distinguished from Tabsh’s bill by the fact that it also amends Law no. 41 of 24 November 2015 on Defining the Conditions for Renaturalization, giving the right to “renaturalization” to anyone with an ancestor on the side of the mother or her relatives (rather than just the father and his relatives, as written in the law) named in the census records made following the declaration of the State of Greater Lebanon (i.e. the 1921-1924 records). Note that in 2015, the Democratic Meeting MPs challenged the aforementioned law in the Constitutional Council.[7] That challenge was limited to Clause A of the law, which made renaturalization contingent on the requirement that “the person named in the records did not explicitly or implicitly choose the nationality of one of the states that seceded from the Ottoman Empire”, and never mentioned the gender-based discrimination. The challenge argued that the aforementioned exclusion is “unjustified” and “based on a classification that is geographical, racial, and perhaps confessional”.


Proposals Subject to Controls and Exclusions

 On the other hand, several bills have included controls and exclusions to Lebanese women’s right to pass on their nationality in an attempt to avoid clashing with the aforementioned taboos, namely the prohibition on settlement and the demographic equilibrium.

 In this regard, one of the most important bills is that by the National Commission for Lebanese Women, which Claudine Aoun submitted in her capacity as the commission’s president to Prime Minister Saad Hariri on 21 May 2019. According to the bill’s title, it aims to recognize the right of Lebanese women married to foreigners to grant their nationality to their children. However, its clauses differentiate among several categories of such children. Firstly, regarding children born to a Lebanese mother and foreign father after the law’s entry into effect, the bill enshrines full equality between men and women by recognizing the latter’s right to grant their nationality to these children. Secondly, the text proposes recognizing the Lebanese nationality of the children of a Lebanese woman married to a foreigner “who have not yet reached the age of 18 on the date that the law enters into effect”. As for children who are adults when the law enters into effect, initially they would only obtain a “green card”, which would grant them the civil, economic, and social rights that Lebanese people enjoy but not the political rights, the right to assume public office, or the right to own property. These people could apply for Lebanese nationality five years after receiving the card but would have no acquired right to obtain it. If this bill is adopted, these people will presumably form a new category of citizens somewhere between Lebanese nationals and foreigners. Hence, one of this bill’s negative effects will be intra-family discrimination among children according to their age at the time of its issuance.

 The proposal of this compromise, whose constitutionality is dubious because it conflicts with the equality principle, is a pragmatic move aimed at extracting this issue from an impasse when it comes to children younger than 18 and reducing the day-to-day obstacles facing the adults.

 Another criticism of this bill is that it entrusts the minister of interior and municipalities with the discretion to grant green cards to the Lebanese women’s children in light of his ministry’s comments and recommendations concerning their applications. Moreover, the bill places more stringent naturalization conditions on Lebanese women’s adult children than on any other foreigners. While the current nationality law allows foreigners to submit naturalization applications after residing in Lebanon for five years, the bill requires the children of Lebanese women to have held a green card for over five years. It also removes their right to file such applications after they have held a green card for ten years. Moreover, this bill does not address the status of the spouses of Lebanese women at all.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.

Keywords: Lebanon, Gender rights, Nationality, Naturalization 


[1] Saada Allaw, “Siyada Jadida bi-Ism al-Maslaha al-‘Ulya: ‘al-Dawla al-Dhukuriyya’ Tadfinu Haqq al-Mara’a al-Lubnaniyya bi-Manh Jinsiyyatiha li-Awladiha Niha’iyyan”, The Legal Agenda, 15 January 2013.

[2] Mikati was the prime minister who in 2012 commissioned the ministerial committee that proposed granting the children of Lebanese women civil and economic rights instead of recognizing their right to obtain Lebanese nationality.

[3] Bill no. 377.

[4] Nizar Saghieh, “Hina Asbahat al-Umuma Mujarrad Hila”, Al Akhbar, 1 July 2009.

[5] Bill no. 401.

[6] Bill no. 410.

[7] Walid Jumblatt, Ghazi Aridi, Marwan Hamadeh, Alaaeddine Terro, Wael Abou Faour, Akram Chehayeb, Henri Helou, Fouad Saad, Antoine Saad, Nehme Tohme, and Elie Aoun.

Share the article

Mapped through:

Articles, Child rights, Gender, Gender, Sexuality and Women Rights, Lebanon, Nationality, Parliament

For Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *