Naturalization decree an insult to the Lebanese people
Heated political and media debates have raged in Lebanon after a decree was announced last Friday granting Lebanese citizenship to more than 300 people.
Citizenship has historically been a complex issue in Lebanon, where everything is based on maintaining a sectarian balance. There is a historic demographic concern about granting citizenship to Palestinian refugees who arrived in Lebanon after being displaced by the Israeli occupation.
Therefore, excessive restrictions were placed on granting citizenship due to resettlement and sectarian balance concerns. Under the same article, Lebanese women were deprived of their right to grant their children citizenship if they are married to non-Lebanese men, and their demands were always met with rejection justified by expected demographic consequences.
Since the Lebanese Civil War ended in the early 1990s, various presidents have made promises and issued random decrees granting citizenship to a few thousand Syrians, Palestinians and other foreigners. This has helped certain blocs win more votes during elections and in naturalizing powerful figures and businessmen.
However, the irony today lies in the fact that the party adopting the latest naturalization decree is the same one that has been warning against such decrees and the resettlement of refugees for years: President Michel Aoun’s party.
The latest naturalization decree was even more awkward because it was announced a few weeks after Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil declared he was not in favor of giving Lebanese women the right to grant their children citizenship if they were married to Syrian or Palestinian men. This discrimination angered many women’s rights advocates.
Amidst this reality and Aoun’s claim that his reign is “strong” and against corruption, Lebanese people — especially women — were shocked by the new naturalization decree, which has been swiftly passed and, for the second time, without taking into consideration the many Lebanese mothers who have been struggling for years because their children were deprived of a right to citizenship, even though they were born and brought up in Lebanon and know no other homeland.
Why would Lebanon need to accept the naturalization of figures close to the Syrian regime?
Another shocking detail that accompanied the naturalization decree was the names leaked by the media of political and financial figures close to the Syrian regime who have been granted Lebanese citizenship — another striking irony.
Why would Lebanon need to accept the naturalization of figures close to the Syrian regime? These figures could use the Lebanese nationality to circumvent the international sanctions imposed on the Assad regime, thus getting Lebanon involved and probably turning it into a money laundering arena for Damascus.
However, the uproar that lasted for two days forced the Lebanese government to retreat and suspend the implementation of this decree until it is examined. The Lebanese Interior Ministry also announced that some of the names leaked by the media were not granted Lebanese citizenship.
But neither of these moves has dispelled the doubts surrounding a decree that appeared to be a deal for powerful figures and a political and financial disguise that must be scrutinized.
This, of course, does not negate the fact that many people deserve Lebanese citizenship. But the lack of transparency on the criteria for granting citizenship, depriving the children of Lebanese women of citizenship, and the suspicious names found on the list of those who were said to have been granted citizenship intensified the uproar over the matter.
The shock of the naturalization decree was deep. In addition to revealing how the Lebanese ruling class was indifferent to Lebanon possibly becoming a money laundering arena for the Syrian regime and its gateway to escaping international sanctions, it has revealed how corrupt parties, who no longer care about public opinion, insulted the intelligence of Lebanese people in an unprecedented manner.
The list of people included on the decree, which included businessmen and financiers, was justified by humanitarian motives at a time when citizenship laws for true humanitarian reasons are rejected. “Humanitarian reasons” are not recognized for the Lebanese women who are deprived of their right to grant their children citizenship.
Nevertheless, the outrage caused by the scandal of the naturalization decree does not mean the page has been turned. Most likely, the matter has now entered the cooling phase until the uproar fades. For sure, the current political class that has been reproduced by the recent parliamentary elections will quickly continue what it started, and we will witness more suspicious deals.
- Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. Twitter: @dianamoukalled