Lebanese Syriacs in Citizenship Limbo

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From a protest demanding equal nationality rights in Beirut. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)

By: Nicolas Abu Rjeili

Published Monday, November 26, 2012

A bill passed earlier this year revoking the citizenship of 25 families who were members of Lebanon’s Syriac Church has been repealed following concerted efforts by the Syriac community, but the interior ministry has yet to fully restore the rights of those affected.

Jalil Murad, 54, remembers the day he was informed that his and his children’s, but not his wife’s, Lebanese citizenship would be revoked.

“The news came to us like a thunderbolt,” he told Al-Akhbar. “We felt lost for a while, our trust in everything around us was gone.”

The decision to withdraw citizenship shocked and angered the Syriac community, despite a judicial stay which put its implementation on hold. Spiritual, political, and social leaders organized protests in front of churches in Zahle, Lebanon. They were joined by some members of parliament and political leaders in the judiciary to protest what they described at the time as “arbitrary and unjust laws.”

Some believe that the decision had to do with political and electoral issues, but others accused the government of persecuting Syriacs because many in the community support the March 14 coalition, particularly the Lebanese Forces.

Then, last May, the government’s Consultative Council issued a preliminary bill to repeal law 6691, specifically the part that concerns revoking the citizenship and naturalization of the families included in decree 5247/94.

Despite the passing of the new bill revoking the previous decree, Murad and his family “still live in a state of anxiety,” which will not subside, he said, until “all the clauses of the bill are implemented by the official departments concerned.”

Murad said the family has already suffered much since the first law was passed.

“One of my children lost an opportunity to get a job in the Lebanese Customs Department,” he said. “Their management crossed his name off a list of those who had successfully completed a competition they had set up for this purpose.”

He went on to call on those responsible for the latest bill to “hurry up in implementing the revocation according to the law, so that our rights may be restored and my children can determine their own fate now that their trust in the country where they were born, and where they dreamed of building their future, has been shaken.”

A leader in the Syriac sect, Badri Abdaim, believes that what happened was “an injustice meted out to families who are known to be truly Lebanese, faithful to the country and to the society.”

“To go back on a mistake is a virtue,” he said. “It is essential that mistakes such as these are not repeated because they cause confusion not only among those from whom the citizenship was withdrawn, but also among those who were naturalized in the late twentieth century.”

“We are not against fixing the anomalies in the naturalization law through legal means, but this has to be done without causing any damage to anyone,” he said.

Abdaim pointed out that “members of the Syriac sect who were naturalized under the decree are a very small percentage of the members of the sect who live all over Lebanon.”

Of the affected families, Abdaim said many of them had to pay out of pocket for lawyers fees to appeal their cases.

“This shows that the Syriac community feels protective of this country and are careful to remain within the law,” he said, adding that the officials concerned with this matter at the interior ministry should implement the new bill restoring full citizenship rights as soon as possible.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


My god bless the Syriacs/Arameans. I'm an Aramean from Holland.

Both the Lebanese government and society at large are so hypocritical when it comes to citizenship and human rights of individuals living in Lebanon. Those people having a Lebanese mother deserve to be respected and granted their rights as citizens. Having also been born in Lebanon should automatically give them full citizenship rights, the same right as most Lebanese people in the diaspora rightfully enjoy. Lebanon is one of the most (if not the most) heartless/ruthless countries on the face of earth when it comes to politically sectarian games. Humanity means nothing to this "state" and that is why war and division and constant threat of violence will always be part of the country's character. As heart-breaking as the story above is, look at the tragedy of the Palestinians who live in Lebanon. Yes they were "refugees" (I thought this is an Arab country, where they should be welcomed at least as GUESTS, or victimized neighbors) but the rules of the sectarian games in this failed regime is unbelievably amazing. Human rights are never an issue, sectarian numbers and political games that plays with the lives, future and human rights of actual people is what distinguishes this poor excuse of state from the rest of humanity. Only when sectarianism and religion is taken out of any political calculation and from the actual laws that entrenches this monstrosity the country will have a chance to live like a "normal" country.

The boy in the poster is my son. He, like me, is British, though his mother is Lebanese, so he still cannot get Lebanese citizensip, even though he was born here and has lived here all his life. The man holding the poster is also a foreigner married to a Lebanese lady, with a similar citizenship problem. Neither is Syriac.

We are delighted that the 25 families in the article have their rights, but when will the state finally give the children and husbands of Lebanese women their rights? When will the state finally admit that the male-oriented nationality law contravenes the equal rights of all citizens (including women) guaranteed by the constitution?

Thank you very much for taking the time to comment and giving us feedback.
We never claimed that the photo was about Syriacs, but we modified the caption underneath the photo in order to clarify that to the readers.
Again, thank you very much.

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