The revelation this week, thanks only to leaked documents and not the transparency of government, that the ministerial committee studying the draft nationality law has rejected it in its entirety is, while not at all surprising, disheartening to say the least.
The law, which would see women for the first time gain equal citizenship rights with men, is supported by the prime minister, the president and the first lady. But ministers studying the draft rejected it on the grounds that it would upset national demographics, explicitly citing concerns over the settlement of Palestinians.
Yet again, the country’s leaders have revealed their arrogance in seemingly believing that international conventions and standards do not apply. This hypocrisy, in claiming to stand with human rights and rejecting such laws, is blatant, and the little issues of equality and human rights are apparently viewed as subjective concerns. That a Lebanese woman cannot pass her citizenship on to her children if she is married to a foreigner is unjust, that much is obvious.
Sectarianism has once more won the day, and those allegedly responsible for protecting the rights of the country’s citizens have been swayed by their blind allegiance to sectarian values.
Women’s rights are also denied in many of the Personal Status laws. The draft law on domestic violence still sits in Parliament, but it has already been stripped of much of its content. At a time when women around the region are rightly demanding equal opportunities, and their right to justice and representation, Lebanese leaders appear to believe that women’s legitimate demands can be repeatedly ignored.
In Saudi Arabia, where women are not even allowed to drive, a recent decree has stipulated that women account for 20 percent of the legislative council. However in Lebanon, which has long boasted of its respect for women’s rights, the 30-member Cabinet is still entirely male, and those three female MPs all happen to be widows, wives or relatives of male politicians.
This is not the first time the issue of equal nationality rights has been discussed at top levels of government and rejected. It should not, then, come as a big surprise. But it is as saddening and frustrating as ever. There are those, many of the campaigners themselves, who truly believed that change was around the corner, having received promises to that end by many politicians.
But, as the current electoral law saga has also shown, the sectarianism argument still refuses to die. Perhaps especially now, as so many parties are latching on to this issue, as they think it will protect their own interests, it is being bandied about more than ever.
Laws, especially those addressing such fundamental issues as nationality, must not be used and abused in the runup to an election, either to garner support or to distract voters from the real and genuine problems the country is facing.
The fact that this rejection of the law also undermines the first article of the Constitution, which affirms that all Lebanese are equal, is also crucial. If politicians can choose to so openly negate the founding principles of the state, what message does this send? This shameful episode is an insult to this country’s women, and an embarrassment to Lebanon’s image internationally.