06 May 2013 05:00
Lebanon, and its capital Beirut, are often represented by the media as islands of freedom in the Middle East. The well-heeled neighborhoods of Achrafieh are reminiscent of a Parisian boutiques, while nightlife in Gemmayze and Hamra could compete with the scene in Berlin. Behind the glossy images of futuristic skyscrapers and flawless female beauty, Lebanon is a country where women are denied the right to pass citizenship onto their children and to their non-Lebanese husbands.
The consequence of this is a lack of legal status and ultimately a lack of access to social rights. The children of a Lebanese woman married to non-Lebanese man are not considered legal Lebanese citizens, despite the fact that these children were in were born and raised in Lebanon. These children are "al-Maktum Qaid" or "stateless.” Being a Palestinian refugee, or a being descendant of those who rejected the Lebanese citizenship during the last census in 1932 to avoid military service (when Lebanon was still under French mandate), is another way people acquire the status of "al-Maktum Qaid".
The "stateless" do not have passports, do not have access to public health care, cannot attend public schools, and do not even have the right to own private property. Marriage and travel also become difficult or impossible. Furthermore, children excluded from nationality rights can be denied residency and deported.
Not only do women pay the consequences of this law, the entire family and society as a whole does too. The government has refused to discuss the law, which dates back to 1925. Perhaps this is because a change in numerical terms by one group over another would result in a shift in political representation and the balance of power within the government.
Granting women the right to pass on citizenship would lead to an increase in the number of Muslims within Lebanon and could possibly open the doors to Palestinian refugees.
Unofficial estimates speak of 35,000 Lebanese women are married to foreigners, and the numbers of the "stateless" exceeds 100,000 out of a population of almost four million.