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The curse on women in mixed marriages is entrenched in Lebanon | International

The marriage formed by the Lebanese Elsa and the Palestinian Cristian, last Saturday in their house on the outskirts of Beirut.
The marriage formed by the Lebanese Elsa and the Palestinian Cristian, last Saturday in their house on the outskirts of Beirut.Oliver MarsdenOliver Marsden

From the balcony of their middle-class apartment in Zarba, a Christian district in northern Beirut, the Lebanese Elsa and the Palestinian Cristian lead a double life without surnames or recognizable faces in Lebanon, a country that turns its back on them. For his closest friends they are just two people who love each other. They met in 2013 and married in 2019. For their respective families, the relationship is seen as taboo and a constant cause for concern. The neighbors don’t know who they really are. “We dare not tell them that he is not Lebanese,” she muses with a gloomy countenance as she caresses the furry latte, the cat of a young married couple without children. “My father stopped talking to me when I got married,” he points out. “He didn’t speak to me again until recently.”

Cristian, a 32-year-old electronic engineer, was born in Beirut, like his father. His grandfather arrived in exile from Nazareth in the forced Palestinian exodus in 1948 by the birth of the State of Israel. He has to renew his residence permit in his native country every three years and lacks basic rights, such as education or public health. The apartment in which he lives with his wife cannot be in his name: the banks deny him the mortgage. His passport with his stateless profile is issued by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. “I pay the same taxes as any Lebanese. I don’t have social security. Nor can I sign the projects that I direct,” he laments his fate as a second-class citizen.

“The Lebanese Constitution declares that men and women are equal, but I feel discriminated against because my future children will not be able to have the same citizenship,” protests Elsa, 32, a sociologist employed by an NGO. A century-old law prevents women from passing on nationality to their offspring if they are married to a foreigner. “It affects in particular the marriages of Lebanese with Syrians [más de un millón de refugiados]and especially with Palestinians [cerca de 300.000]”, he clarifies while both describe their tribulations.

—For me, Cristian is a human being, not a foreigner. We met through Facebook, and at first I didn’t know he was Palestinian, she admits.

—I didn’t take long to tell Elsa. Before, she had gone out with another Lebanese, and when I revealed that she had another nationality, she stood me up, he confesses.

French Colonial Rule of 1925

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Immersed in a serious political and economic crisis for three years, Lebanon is seen as an advanced country in terms of civil rights in a retrograde environment such as the Middle East. It has decriminalized consensual relationships within the LGTBIQ community. Women who want to be mothers without declaring the paternity of the baby transmit citizenship with all its attributions. However, a law passed in 1925 under French colonial rule prevents a Lebanese mother from conferring nationality on a child conceived with a foreigner.

“We want to start a family, despite the fact that we know for sure that our children will not be able to go to university in Lebanon and will always be considered outcasts,” the Lebanese sociologist reels off a memorial of grievances. “That’s why we keep thinking about going to another country to be able to offer them a normal life,” admits Elsa. Canada. Spain. Ireland. Belgium …. They are destinations that she cites. According to United Nations estimates published in 2009, between 1995 and 2008 there were 18,000 marriages between a Lebanese woman and a foreigner. Some judges have invoked the Constitution to grant nationality despite the legal prohibition, but higher courts have always ended up overturning the decision.

The reverse of Elsa’s personal drama was shown by the Palestinian Yamal Qasem, 39, the mother of a Lebanese son, like her father, while showing off her tinted right thumb after voting last Sunday in the legislative elections at a Dahiye polling station. , south of Beirut. “This is my Lebanese identity card after my marriage in 2016. It says: born in Nablus (Palestine), although I also have valid UNRWA documentation as a refugee,” she boasted after casting her vote. Both opposing cases confirm the Lebanese paradox in the staunch defense of the complex ethnic and confessional balance between the 18 communities, with 15 different statutes of rights, that make up the most diverse country in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“The repeal of the outdated nationality law that discriminates against women has barely figured in the debates of the campaign, focused above all on the chaos of the economy,” explains political scientist Aya Majzub, a researcher for the NGO Human Rights Watch in Lebanon. Similar situations limiting women’s rights occur in another 25 countries. “There are parties that have proposed a reform of this rule in previous elections, but have not dared to carry them out,” she says at the headquarters of her organization in downtown Beirut. “The rights of migrant women, subjected in domestic service to the kafala, exploitation in semi-slavery, or raising the minimum age for marriage to 18 years have been other concerns of ours during the campaign”, concludes Majzub.

The marriage formed by the Lebanese Elsa and the Palestinian Cristian, last Saturday at their home on the outskirts of Beirut.
The marriage formed by the Lebanese Elsa and the Palestinian Cristian, last Saturday at their home on the outskirts of Beirut.Oliver MarsdenOliver Marsden

“Now our families accept that we visit them and our neighbors are probably turning a blind eye. But we want to have children soon and we don’t see Lebanon changing. We have no future here”, reflects Elsa aloud, who declares her vote in favor of Citizens for a State, one of the opposition and independent coalitions that has broken the monopoly of the traditional confessional parties to win 10% of the seats. of Parliament. Cristian, her husband, does not have the right to vote.

“Our family and our friends respect us, but in the neighborhood we prefer not to come out of the closet. Please, do not publish our surnames or photographs that identify us”, they plead before saying goodbye. Not counting the Palestinians, seven out of ten stateless people in the heterogeneous Levant-Mediterranean country have a Lebanese mother.

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