Lebanese Syriacs in Citizenship Limbo

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By: Nicolas Abu Rjeili
We felt lost for a while, our trust in everything around us was gone. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)

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passed earlier this year revoking the citizenship of 25 families who were members of Lebanon’s Syriac Church has been repealed following concerted efforts by the Syriac community, but the interior ministry has yet to fully restore the rights of those affected.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

Some accused the government of persecuting Syriacs because many in the community support the March 14 coalition, particularly the Lebanese Forces.
“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.

http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/lebanese-syriacs-citizenship-limbo