The Children of Libyan Women Married to Foreigners: Lost Identity and Rights

2016-08-08    |   

The Children of Libyan Women Married to Foreigners: Lost Identity and Rights


It has become commonplace to see Libyan women married to foreigners participate actively in political and academic meetings in Benghazi that concern their issue.[1] They represent a diverse cross-section of Libyan women: they hail from several cities, they range in age from their twenties to their sixties, and some work while others do not. But their common denominator is the heavy burden imposed upon them by the discrimination against them and their children. One woman complains that her daughter’s excellent secondary school results were a curse, for she then faced the legal reality that only Libyan citizens can enroll in medicine faculties. Another woman cries in anguish when she recalls her martyred son’s words: “I will die to defend the country, mother.” “What kind of country refuses to grant the family of a martyr born to a Libyan woman the same privileges that it grants to a martyr born to a Libyan man?”, she wonders. “Even I –a Libyan citizen– have not been granted the privilege of pilgrimage that is [usually] granted to a martyr’s mother because my son, who died for Libya, is considered a foreigner.”

The phenomenon of Libyan women marrying foreigners appeared with the growth of migrant labor from Arab countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, Syria, and even Chad and Sudan. These marriages produced offspring who were born in Libya to Libyan women, who reside in Libya yet denied the right to citizenship. Subsequently, the families concerned are demanding that these offspring be granted Libyan citizenship. They see it as their inherent right stipulated in the international agreements and conventions that the Libyan state has signed and is obliged to implement.

Tribal Framework as an Obstacle to Imparting Libyan Citizenship to Children of Libyan Mothers?

One of the main causes of the reluctance to grant citizenship in Libya is tribal relations. The tribe remains an omnipresent social framework. Within this framework, a woman who marries outside of the tribe leaves the tribe and joins that of her husband. The original tribe then denies the women her right to inheritance, lest her foreign husband take ownership of the family or tribe’s lands and farms. The comprehensive values survey conducted in Libya in 2013 clearly reveals that the issue is altogether more cultural and social than political, legal, or even religious. The overwhelming majority of Libyans trust family members, and a large majority trust personal acquaintances. Conversely, a large majority do not trust people who have a different religion or speak a different language, people who they are meeting for the first time, or people of other nationalities.[2]

Some Eastern Libyan tribes take pride in women, for some of their families –such as the Ruqayya, Bujamila, and Mary families– are named after them. However, these families belong to the tribe via a father who married multiple women, and his children were surnamed after their mothers to distinguish them from one another. This further suggests that that the backdrop of discrimination against women stems primarily from wariness of the “other”, or the “outsider” to which Libyan citizens are predisposed. The main causes of this wariness include concern for wealth, and a fear of creating an imbalance in the demographic makeup, especially in the southern regions.

The Laws Governing the Issue

The imparting of Libyan citizenship to children of Libyan women is not a new issue, for it existed before the events of 2011. However, the process of drafting the new Constitution, which coincided with the removal of restrictions on the establishment of civil society rights organizations in Libya, brought the issue to the surface.

Previously, Libya’s General People's Congress (the highest legislative authority in the country at the time) issued a law –Law No. 24 of 2010– that allowed for Libyan citizenship to be imparted to the children of Libyan women married to foreigners. This law was the culmination of a series of discussions and legal conferences initiated by the Wa Attassimou organization under the chairmanship Ayesha Gaddafi. The executive regulation of the aforementioned law specified the criteria needed for its implementation. Note that the law had made the imparting of nationality [to said children] discretionary, as opposed to mandatory.[3] Articles 6 and 7 of Executive Regulation No. 594 of 2010 specified said criteria, which pertain firstly to the age of majority.[4] Nationality cannot be granted to said children before they reach the age of majority, unless the father is deceased or legally deemed missing. Once the children become adults, Libyan nationality may be imparted to them upon request after approval is obtained from the parents [for the request], and from the body with competence over social affairs for the [parent’s] marriage. The regulation stipulated that Libyan nationality can under no circumstances be imparted to children of Libyan women married to Palestinian men.

The Constitutional Status of the Issue

The first Libyan Constitution promulgated in October 1951, regulated citizenship in its eighth, ninth, and tenth articles. It explicitly prohibited Libyan citizens from holding the citizenship of other Arab or foreign countries. Under this Constitution, anyone who [has no other nationality and] is born in Libya, has a Libyan-born parent, or has lived in Libya for at least ten years, was deemed Libyan.

The Constituent Assembly (also known as the Constitution Drafting Assembly) issued three draft Constitutions that addressed the issue in the following manner.

The first two drafts of the Libyan Constitution, which is now due for promulgation, were issued in 2014 and 2015.[5] They stated explicitly and resolutely that Libyan nationality shall not be [automatically] imparted to the child of a Libyan woman. Article 11/2 stipulated that “Whosoever is born to a Libyan father shall be Libyan”. Article 13/3 stipulated that “Priority shall be given to imparting nationality to [i.e., naturalizing] the children of Libyan women”. Article 119/6 which concerns the right to a decent life, granted the children of Libyan women access to all the rights that Libyan citizens enjoy, except for political rights.

As for the third draft, a surprising amendment imparting nationality to said children was made during the final meetings, which were held in Salalah, Oman. Thus, the draft enshrined their right to Libyan nationality.

Thereafter, the new [and fourth] Constitution draft, issued on April 19, 2016, took a different approach to the issue in its twelfth Article. Under this draft, any person who was born to a Libyan mother in accordance with the law’s regulations and whom the law has permitted to hold citizenship shall be Libyan. A close examination of this draft reveals that the Constituent Assembly distinguished between persons who acquire citizenship de jure [i.e., automatically], as per Article 12/1, and persons who acquire it after birth, as per Article 12/2. The latter group includes children of Libyan mothers married to foreigners, and persons to whom imparting nationality is discretionary and restricted by the assessment criteria set by the legislature. Among the most important of these criteria, according to Article 13 of the draft, are those relating to national interest, maintaining the demographic makeup, and the ease of integration into Libyan society. The draft also stipulates that acquired nationality can be withdrawn during the ten years following its acquisition. Note that Article 58/6 of the final version of the Constitution’s draft retains the deprivation of children of Libyan women of political rights.

These articles appeared within a group of guiding articles that stress equality between Libyan men and women and prohibit discrimination against the latter. In the first chapter (“Form and Fundamental Pillars of the State”), Article 9 (“Citizenship”) stipulates that “Male and female citizens shall be equal in and before the law”, and that “all forms of discrimination for any reason such as … sex … shall be prohibited”. In the second chapter (“Rights and Freedoms”), Article 57 (“Supporting Rights of Women”) stipulates that “Women are the counterparts of men. The State shall be committed to supporting and caring for women, enacting laws that ensure their protection, promoting their status in society, eliminating the negative culture and social customs that detract from their dignity, prohibiting discrimination against them, ensuring their right to representation in public elections, and enabling their access to opportunities in all areas. It shall take the necessary measures to support their acquired rights”.

In comparison, Egypt’s 2014 Constitution enshrined the right of Egyptian women married to foreigners to Egyptian citizenship. Article 6 stipulates that “Nationality is a right to anyone born to an Egyptian father or an Egyptian mother, and legal recognition through official papers corroborating his/her personal data is a right guaranteed and regulated by Law”. Hence, children born to [both] Egyptian men and women have a constitutional right to citizenship. The law cannot vitiate this right or impose conditions upon it that restrict it to the children of a particular group of Egyptian women. The intended regulation cannot vitiate the original right; rather, it can only govern the process of issuing the official documents that corroborate the right in a manner that does not affect its existence.[6]

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


[1] Workshops, political debates between female candidates for the Constituent Assembly, interviews with members of the Constituent Assembly, and an interview with government officials.

[2] World Values Survey: Comprehensive Survey of Libyans’ Opinions on Values, February 2014, Research and Consulting Center, University of Benghazi, page 11.

[3] See: Sad al-Asbli, “The New Citizenship Law”, at

[4] Executive Regulation No. 24 of 1378 [2010] on Libyan Nationality Provisions.

[5] The first draft was issued by the substantive committees of the Constituent Assembly in December 2014. The second was issued in 2015 by the Work Committee of the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly was elected to issue Libya’s post-2011 Constitution.
[6] See: Fattouh El Chazli’s, “Readings of Egypt’s 2014 Constitution (3): Shedding Light on the Rights of Egyptian Women in the New Constitution”, The Legal Agenda, February 2014,

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