How the Lebanese state forbids women from passing down their nationality

by Layla Yammine - independent journalist based in Beirut Lebanon
Thursday 14 September 2023

There are no doubt layers to motherhood that I do not and will not understand as long as I have not become a mother yet, but I do know that being unable to pass down my Lebanese citizenship to my future children is something that will definitely be painful.

My partner is Syrian, and I am Lebanese, and we’ve both lived our whole lives in Lebanon. In parallel, the two countries have existed together forever, for as long as humans have lived on these lands, so personally, I don’t mind the fact that my future children will carry the Syrian nationality, if we decide to have any. But what I do mind is being unable to give them my nationality, which is  Lebanese. The reasons are both sexist and racist.

Lebanese nationality is patrilineal. The Lebanese nationality law of 1925 (that existed before Lebanon gained its independence in 1943), states that if a Lebanese mother is married to a non-Lebanese person, she is then unable to pass on her nationality to her children. Children that are born to Lebanese fathers can have the nationality, whereas children born to Lebanese mothers are deprived of the nationality. The law literally states that “He is considered Lebanese if he is born to a Lebanese father.”

In parallel, when a Lebanese man marries a non-Lebanese person, this person has the ability to pass down the Lebanese nationality to their children only three years after the marriage, and five years on they will have the right to obtain the Lebanese nationality even if the couple did not have any children.

I recently found out that my childhood neighbour’s husband was Syrian, but they never registered their marriage in Lebanon so she can give her Lebanese nationality to her children. I wasn’t so shocked. In fact, I admired her. The only way she was able to pass down her nationality is by registering her children as “castaways,” and never registering her marriage legally in the country. This requires so much courage, especially given that courts in Lebanon are never just legal, they’re also social. It’s a coerced choice that I don’t think I could make myself. Can you imagine registering your children as “illegals” just so you can give them your nationality? I can not.

Over the years, many have tried to pass a bill that allows Lebanese women to give their nationality to their children, but most of those bills had exclusions: if a woman is married to a Palestinian or Syrian then they’re definitely not allowed to give their nationality, which does not apply to foreigners from any other country.

Far-right politicians over the years have worried about the “Lebanese” nationality of their citizens. It is not a secret that many “foreign” marriages are either with a Syrian or Palestinian partner, which makes the fight harder. According to far-right politicians, any bill changing the law should only be passed for people who are not “ neighbours” of our country, which are Palestine and Syria. 

Those politicians are worried about the “Lebanese demographics,” and scared that if they gave the Lebanese women the option of giving their nationality to their children, then the “Muslims” will outnumber the “Christians” and thus change the “Lebanese identity.”

They are also led by advancing international agendas, rather than prioritizing the political needs and wants of their actual citizens. 

Lebanon ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a nationality, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child without any reservations. The agreement clearly states that children have the right to obtain both of their parents’ nationalities and yet Lebanon is clearly not adhering.

Right now, the status quo situation affects the lives of so many people and children living in Lebanon and has an impact on so many parts of their lives, including legal residency, access to healthcare, employment, social services and education. Children are discriminated against every day on many different levels even though their mothers’ are Lebanese and even though they were born and raised their whole lives in Lebanon.

Non-Lebanese children, and spouses must renew their residency in Lebanon every one to three years. They also need a work permit to work in Lebanon even if they were born here. They are also denied health insurance access, and many more hurdles.

Women are treated as if they have to make a choice: their country or their marriages and families.

I long thought about what I could possibly write to explain the fact that I cannot give my nationality to my children if I marry someone who doesn’t only have Lebanese heritage (even though he does, since his mother is Lebanese). I didn’t have the words to explain, so I'm just stating the absurd facts put forth by a fanatic, racist, and sexist government.