“People like me, they have to bypass”
“However it may have originated, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, modern citizenship became an institution deployed for colonial and imperial campaigns to create governable (rather than merely subject) peoples. Many postcolonial nations and states inherited and then effectively instituted citizenship for governing – dividing, classifying, disciplining, regulating – peoples” (Isin 2015, p. 263).
The citizenship law of Lebanon is an outstanding example for the colonial legacies addressed in the above quote. There are different ways how regulation and classification of people by the Lebanese citizenship norms law work: By not offering regular ways of naturalisation, meaning the admittance to citizenship, for non-Lebanese residing in Lebanon (Jaulin 2006), by irregularly offering re-naturalisation for (mostly Christian) Lebanese descendants residing elsewhere (Jaulin 2015) or by not granting Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men the right to transmit their nationality to their children (Chebbo 2022).
Besides the colonial legacies, these ways of population regulation by ancestry-based citizenship law also show the patriarchal influences. The law cements “the linkage between religious identity, political identity, patrilineality, and patriarchy - that is, between religion, nation, state, and kinship” (Joseph 2000b, p. 18). By identifying the family as the core unit of society, the Lebanese citizenship law is depicting men as the primary citizens due to their function as the head of patriarchal families (Joseph 2000b, pp. 16–17). This preference of male ancestry in the Lebanese citizenship law manifests in the legal norm that Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men do not have the right to transmit their nationality to their husband or children whereas Lebanese men do have this right.
This way of legal regulation is at the centre of this paper. The discrimination against Lebanese women in transmitting their citizenship is codified in Article 1 of the Decree No. 15 regulating the Lebanese citizenship norms (General Saray 1/19/1925). This patriarchal legal norm has an important impact on the daily practices of these binational families: Not having the Lebanese citizenship, the children and the foreign spouse of Lebanese women do not have access to a long-term residence permit or to the social security system, they face difficulties accessing the formal public education system and are denied access to certain jobs or syndicates (Sharafeddine 2009, p. 22). Additionally, this study argues that these restrictions lead to reactions by the disadvantaged: They are the starting point for political activism and campaigning work to change this law, the reason why support structures beside the state are established, and the driving force for people to decide to leave the country.
These different practices concerning the positioning of individuals depending on the citizenship status are conceptualized by political scientist Engin Fahri Isin with the notion of performative citizenship. The performative citizenship approach follows a broader definition of citizenship, not only focusing on the “legal and political membership in a nation-state but also […] [on] the practices through which individuals and groups formulate and claim new rights or struggle to expand or maintain existing rights” (Isin and Wood 1999, p. 4). This broader notion of citizenship allows researchers to shed light on the various experiences of citizens and non-citizens concerning their citizenship status, on the restrictions they face as well as on the respective coping strategies.
To investigate the situation and practices of children of binational families in Lebanon in which the Lebanese mother cannot transmit her nationality to her children, this paper aims to answer the following guiding question:
Following Isin’s notion of a performative citizenship, which practices and strategies do children of binational families in Lebanon use to cope with the restrictions imposed by the law and to perform their own form of citizenship?
In this paper, I argue that the performative citizenship of the children in these families is not only expressed through their political and social activism for a more inclusive citizenship law. Rather, by finding coping strategies to exercise basic human rights and by having an affective citizenship meaning they feel Lebanese and therefore state their right to be Lebanese on paper, they are performing Lebanese citizenship.
Additionally, despite the same legal frame for all interviewed families, the perceived restrictions and the developed coping strategies differ based on the socio-economic situation of the family and the nationality of the children.
The question will be answered by following a qualitative approach using the method of problem-centred interviews conducted by the researcher throughout Lebanon. In this paper, after outlining the applied methodology, I will then shortly characterize the Lebanese citizenship law and its consequences for the families of Lebanese mothers having married non-Lebanese spouses. I will continue recapitulating the concept of a performative citizenship following Isin and finally connect the existing theory with the findings of this case study.