Fighting for citizenship in Lebanon

Mother of four challenges law which bars her children from becoming citizens.

    Lebanon remains one of a handful of Middle Eastern countries where children inherit citizenship only through their fathers.

    Children born to Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers say this has threatened their welfare as they face challenges in getting access to education, employment, healthcare and other social benefits normally available to the citizenry.

    Al Jazeera's Zeina Awad met with one woman who has challenged the courts to grant Lebanese citizenship to her children born of an Egyptian father.

    Samira Soueidan, a Lebanese citizen and mother of four children, never thought that marrying the Egyptian man she fell in love with would one day have her battling for her children's citizenship rights.

    "When my husband passed away, I started thinking how are these children going to live? How are they going to get security? I had totally forgotten that my children are foreigners," she says.

    The Lebanese government considers Samira's children to be foreigners, even though they were born in Lebanon, because only fathers can pass on citizenship to their children.

    As non-Lebanese, Samira's children have no access to public schools and hospitals. They cannot work without expensive residency permits which must be renewed each year.

    Samira is struggling to make ends meet: "I am working day and night ... once I was late paying for their residencies, the general security told me it was not their problem. They said: 'You either come up with the money or we will deport your children.' I started crying."

    At that point Samira launched legal proceedings and, with the support of sympathetic lawyers and women's organisations, successfully won citizenship for her children in a 2005 landmark ruling.

    Government appeals

    Lebanese law

    Lebanon's current citizenship law was written in 1925.

    It was amended in 1994 but maintained that only fathers can pass citizenship on to their offspring.

    Judge John Qazzi ruled that while Samira's children carry Egyptian passports, Lebanon is all they know. He also reasoned that Samira should have the same rights as foreign women who marry Lebanese men have.

    However, the Lebanese minister of justice subsequently disagreed with the ruling and recommended an appeal hearing in a higher court.

    Observers believe politicians will not change the law to allow women to pass on citizenship for fear of upsetting Lebanon's delicate confessional balance.

    Ibrahim Al Najjar, the minister of justice, says allowing women to pass on citizenship requires agreement from all religious communities in the country.

    "If you can't reach an agreement you can't modify the law. That is the bottom line."

    Despite this, Samira has vowed to continue her fight because, she says, the issues at stake - equality and rights - are so much bigger than just her case. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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