Published December 19, 2012
Bilal and his wife Amal were born in Lebanon. Their fathers and mothers and siblings were born in Lebanon as well. It is the only country both have known. When they married eight years ago, their marriage was opposed by Amal’s parents. How could their daughter marry a stateless man? Someone with no documents? Someone, who even though he was born in Lebanon and had lived his entire life in Lebanon, could not prove he was Lebanese? Someone who, in their eyes, had very little future ahead of him. But they married anyway.
Amal is still technically single according to her documents. In the eyes of the religious authorities, Bilal, 46, and Amal, 42, are married, but with Bilal being stateless and without documents because his own father, also stateless, was unable to properly register his son's birth with authorities, the Lebanese state does not legally recognize their marriage. “We have not seen a good day since,” Bilal says.
When they had their daughter Rana in 2005, it made no sense to Amal to be told that she, a Lebanese citizen, could not pass her citizenship on to her child. She was told the same thing when they had their second child, son Rafiq, a few years later.
Since then Amal has spent her days consumed not only with trying to find much needed healthcare for Bilal, who suffers from severe diabetes and is now unable to work as a result of his disabilities, but also with trying to navigate her way through the complex bureaucracy of the Lebanese government in an effort find a way to pass on her citizenship to her husband and children. She has sought legal assistance, but it has been impossible to penetrate Lebanese nationality laws, which were created in 1925 and that continue to be bolstered today by a sectarian political system built on perpetuating a balance of power based on religious confession. All her efforts have been fruitless. Bilal continues to be stateless, and unable to receive citizenship from their Lebanese mother, Rana and Rafiq have both inherited his status.
Like several countries in the Gulf and Middle East, including Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, Lebanese citizenship laws do not permit Lebanese women from passing their citizenship to their husbands or their children. In a country with a history of progressive policies related to the equal rights of women, such as a woman’s right to vote in 1953, her permission to travel freely in 1974, equal rights to retirement and social security benefits in 1984 as well as equal rights to conduct business freely in 1994, the inability of a Lebanese woman to pass on her citizenship is seen by many women as a gross violation of a fundamental right that in many ways thwarts almost any progress the country has made related to the "equality" of women.
“I feel lost and with so much pain it is killing me. I can’t do anything for my children. I am Lebanese of a Lebanese father and I can’t do anything for my husband and for my children,” Amal says.
Editor's note: the text has been changed to reflect the stateless status of Bilal's father.