Looking over my story about Samira Soueidan, I realized I left out some vital information about why the Justice Ministry would appeal such a case. Do they not like Egyptians? Do they not like widowers?
Those who’ve followed my reporting on the issue will know that the appeal is actually more or less framed around the idea of the 400,000 or so Palestinian refugees being resettled in Lebanon.
Lebanon has always been paranoid that Palestinian refugees will be granted Lebanese citizenship and resettle here, upsetting the demographic balance in this hysterically confessional country. The argument put forward by officials in public is that they don’t want the Palestinians to relinquish their right to return to the country they were expelled from. (This is coincidentally one of the main reasons Lebanon also does not grant the Palestinians the right to work in most professions).
But scrutinize the issue and you will find this policy is nothing but lies. Christian Palestinians were granted Lebanese citizenship a long time ago, simply because they would bolster Christian numbers. So it has nothing to do with the rights of Palestinians to return to their occupied country and everything to do with sectarianism. By granting Soueidan the right to nationality, the Justice Ministry saw a dangerous precedent being set that could pave the way for all stateless children and husbands to demand their right to citizenship.
It’s especially difficult to comprehend the logic behind Lebanon’s sexist nationality laws when looking at the facts on the ground: According to a UNDP-funded study, only 2% of all Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese are married to Palestinians. This shows the law for what it is:deeply flawed and only existing to serve the patriarchal sectarian system.
In all countries of the world, politicians are meant to serve their constituents. In Lebanon, politicians (except a minor handful) serve themselves and then, if they have enough energy to spare, their religious community. Samira Soueidan, a Lebanese mother of four, apparently committed a crime when she married an Egyptian man. Her husband is now dead but she continues to pay for this crime- the Lebanese government does not recognize women’s right to pass on citizenship and so her children are stateless. They have never been to Egypt and do not have nor wish for Egyptian citizenship. They are Lebanese to everyone except the State.
Samira wanted recognition her children are Lebanese, and so she went to the courts. The first court said yes, her children should be granted citizenship. Then the Justice Minister decided to appeal. I repeat, the Justice Minister. He wins, Samira’s children and by extension all Lebanese women lose. The irony is too much to bear.
If you want to read more about the case, here it is:
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
BEIRUT: A landmark ruling which granted citizenship to the children of a Lebanese mother was overturned by an appeals court Tuesday in a move that has left human rights activists reeling.
Samira Soueidan filed a lawsuit five years ago demanding her four children be granted citizenship rights following the death of her Egyptian husband. Lebanese law permits men to pass on their nationality to their non-Lebanese wives and children but bars women married to non-Lebanese from doing the same.
Leaving the courthouse in Jdidet al-Metn, Soueidan said she had “lost the battle but not the fight” and vowed to take her case to the Court of Cassation, Lebanon’s highest appeals court. “I’m not going to stop here,” she said, adding that her children had been born and raised in Lebanon and should be viewed as Lebanese.
In a breakthrough ruling last July, Judges John al-Azzi, Rana Habka and Lamis Kazma ruled in favor of granting Soueidan’s two sons and two daughters citizenship. The judges said their decision was based on the fact there was no law prohibiting a Lebanese mother from passing on her nationality to her children after the death of her husband. They also noted that aspects of Lebanon’s nationality law were “obscure” and that current legislation favored foreign women over their Lebanese counterparts.
The verdict was applauded by civil society organizations and suggested a breakthrough for thousands of other families suffering because of the sexist legislation. Ironically, however, it was appealed by Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar.
The Court of Cassation, presided over by Judge Mary al-Maouchi and two other women consultants, accepted Najjar’s appeal and overturned Azzi’s ruling, saying it contravened Articles 3 and 537 of Lebanon’s Civil Law code and the nationality law. “Judicial courts are not concerned with granting nationality rights [in cases where it was not granted at birth] as this is a right only enjoyed by the president,” stated the 17-page ruling, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Star. Soueidan will have to pay all the legal fees incurred in the case.
Representatives from the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action [CRTD.A], a Lebanese non-governmental organization that has been supporting Soueidan in her fight, said they were disappointed but “unsurprised” by the legal setback. “The approach of the Lebanese government since Azzi’s ruling has not been encouraging,” said Roula Masri, CRTD.A gender program coordinator.
She claimed the judge had been subject to harassment and “humiliation” from leading officials in the Justice Ministry.
Azzi was also reportedly unofficially banned from talking to journalists, who were required to submit interview requests to the Justice Ministry. A request submitted by The Daily Star several months ago was never answered.
There are around 18,000 Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese in Lebanon, according to a study by the UN Development Program. Around 80,000 children and husbands are potentially made stateless by the current legislation.
Deprived of state protection and recognition, those without citizenship live in a precarious legal vacuum and cannot benefit from state education or health care, work in the formal economy or vote. They are vulnerable to arbitrary detention, have difficulty accessing the legal system and live under constant fear of deportation.
Lebanon’s nationality law was formulated in 1925, at a time when Beirut was under French mandatory rule. “It’s about time to amend such an outdated law,” Masri said. That the law continues to be applied flies in the face of “claims that we live in a democratic country that can compete in the international arena.”
A 1994 amendment of the nationality law gave the child of a Lebanese mother and foreign father the right to obtain citizenship. But in order for it to be granted, the child must marry a Lebanese citizen and live continuously in Lebanon for at least five years, including one year after marriage.
Tuesday’s ruling, together with the discriminatory nationality legislation, contradicts Article 7 of the Lebanese Constitution, which guarantees men and women equality before the law, Masri said. “The only way women can win their rights is by amending the current nationality law,” she said, adding that CRTD.A would respond to Soueidan’s defeat with a major public event. Masri also decried the fact that Soueidan’s hopes for nationality rights were thwarted by women judges. “It’s a pity to find women not supporting other women’s rights.”
Omission of issue from ministerial statement does not justify neglect
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 26, 2009
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new Cabinet must not forget its duty to work toward granting Lebanese women nationality rights, despite its apparent omission of the issue in the ministerial statement, gender-equality activists said Wednesday. Over 100 people heeded the call of social justice organization Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A) to demand an overhaul of the current discriminatory legislation, formulated in 1925.
The law allows men to pass on their nationality to their non-Lebanese wives and children but forbids Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese from doing the same. This injustice is further exacerbated by Lebanon’s reservation on Article 2 of paragraph 9 of the UN Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, pertaining to nationality rights.
“The Lebanese Constitution lets any Lebanese man who marries a foreigner automatically give her his nationality and even if she has 10 children from a previous marriage, they get the Lebanese nationality,” said one woman who wished not to be identified. “But children who are born in this country and are Lebanese citizens more than some of our politicians cannot get the nationality.”
There are about 18,000 Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese living in Lebanon and over 80,000 people affected by the current legislation, including children and spouses, according to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) “Toward Reforming the Nationality Law in Lebanon” project.
CRTD.A launched the regional Nationality Campaign nearly a decade ago to demand reform of discriminatory nationality laws. Since then the campaign has met with considerable success, with Algeria, Morocco and Egypt changing their laws, said CRTD.A executive director Lina Abou-Habib. More recently, Bahrain adopted measures guaranteeing equality for women and Syria has enforced laws stipulating gender equality in education. “We are witnessing progress in the region. There is no excuse for Lebanon not to join in,” Abou-Habib said. Viewed as illegal aliens, those without Lebanese citizenship face myriad difficulties, including obtaining employment or affordable education and health care, are required to go for regular medical check-ups and blood tests, and face the threat of deportation every day. The difficulties faced by those without citizenship was on Wednesday apparent as audience members emotionally recounted painful experiences.
One Lebanese woman married to a non-Lebanese said she feared for her children’s financial future. “Who is going to inherit from me after I die? Neither my children nor my husband will benefit from my life’s work.”
There are also a number of people who, because of a decades-old administrative oversight, continue to be denied their right to Lebanese citizenship. “Men and women are treated the same when it comes to injustice,” said audience member Haider Radi, struggling to hold back tears. “I was born of a Lebanese father. My father was born in Lebanon in 1920 and was registered in 1932 but he was then transferred to the foreign register in 1936. My father suffered from bad governance and now I’m suffering and my daughters are suffering.”
Abou-Habib reiterated the Nationality Campaign would not accept reform of the nationality law that excludes Palestinians. Those against an amendment of the law have argued that the naturalization of thousands of Palestinian men and children would tip Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance in favor of Sunni Muslims, the religion of the majority of the country’s 400,000 Palestinian refugees.
But rights activists have pointed out that less than 2 percent of Lebanese women are married to Palestinians. “Any nationality law that comes with exceptions would be unconstitutional,” Abou-Habib said, referring to the Constitution’s demand for total equality between men and women.
While nationality rights are important in their own right, Lebanon’s sexist legislation is only one manifestation of gender inequality, activists said. In a statement earlier this month, the Nationality Campaign urged ministers to include “clear statements” in the upcoming Ministerial Statement on how they intended to push forward gender equality. In particular, they demanded clauses addressing the right for Lebanese women to pass on their nationality, the implementation of a women’s quota for municipal polls next year, and the approval of a proposed family-based violence bill. But the Cabinet has already disappointed them. Abou-Habib said Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud had told members of the Nationality Campaign last Friday that out of 30 ministers, which include two women, only he and Information Minister Tareq Mitri had called for the ministerial statement to include a clause acknowledging the need to reform the nationality law.
Lebanese politicians’ inaction has only reasserted the determination of activists to persevere with their demands. “We’re going to go through with the nationality campaign and we won’t wait for any MPs to take action,” said one audience member.