New Lebanese Draft Law Extends the Reacquisition of Lebanese Citizenship to the Descendants of Lebanese Emigrants

By Guita Hourani, Director of the Lebanese Emigration Research Center of Notre Dame University, Lebanon

Summary

On December 12, 2011, the Council of Ministers in Lebanon unanimously approved the draft law extending the reacquisition of citizenship by descendants of Lebanese emigrants.
Under this draft law, descendants of expatriates of Lebanese origin holding documents that prove patrilineal Lebanese ancestry may apply for Lebanese citizenship if they choose to through a simplified procedure set forth in the draft law. Although previously the lack of documents proving Lebanese lineage made it difficult for Lebanese descendents to acquire citizenship, the draft law includes a wider and more realistic set of provisions for  proving Lebanese lineage.  The burden of proof of lineage continues to rest on the applicant, but the new draft law has added criteria that are less complicated. Lebanon does not prohibit dual citizenship but rather tolerates it and as such applicants for Lebanese citizenship can apply without fear of having to renounce their current citizenship.  According to a brief interview with MP Ghassan E. Moukheiber, “the draft law will be submitted to Parliament and a simple majority vote would make it into law” (personal communication December 15, 2011). Mr. Moukheiber envisages that, assuming that the draft law is not subject to amendment by Parliament, the law will pass without controversy, as it was approved by the Parliamentary Administrative and Justice Committee in the previous Parliament  of 2005- 2009.

Analysis

There are many deficiencies in the draft law on the legal, administrative and social levels. There are three critical considerations that we can quickly bring attention to. The first is that the draft law does not define the concept of “generation”. Generation labeling thus needs to be clarified. The draft law stipulates that up to fourth generation descendants can apply for citizenship; however, the draft law does not define the meaning of the “first generation immigrant” that initiates the counting of second, third and forth generations. What constitutes “first generation” is an ambiguous term in general. A “first generation immigrant” may mean the generation which actually emigrated, or individuals born to these immigrants in the host country. This distinction is not clear even in the studies on migration. It is not possible to determine, from the content of the current draft law, which definition applies. From the perspective of the descendants, clarity of definition determines the generation whose members may or may not apply for Lebanese citizenship, based on their position in the vertical genealogical ladder.

The second critical weakness is the discriminatory provision that citizenship is based on patrilineal as opposed to matrilineal, descent. Only Lebanese descendants who can prove that their fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers were Lebanese, broadly understood, may apply for Lebanese citizenship. Descendants of Lebanese mothers, grandmothers, or great-grandmothers are excluded from the current draft law. This is in compliance with established Lebanese law that does not allow Lebanese women to transfer their citizenship to their children.

The third critical weakness in the draft law is the limitation of acquisition to the descendants of the Lebanese emigrants who left Lebanon between 1880 (or before) and 1921 and denying it to those who were descendents of Ottoman subjects or the descendants of those who received laissez-passer from the French Mandate authorities (if they do not meet either of the conditions in Article 1), they are thus denied an opportunity to prove their ancestry and acquire Lebanese citizenship.

Read the translation of the draft law.