Alien in Lebanon: my country, my home and the thin line in between

You can also find this article on the International Political Forum

A month ago, I was having dinner with my friends. I don’t know how in so many years of friendship we still manage to always stumble upon topics that we have never discussed before. On that night one of my friends was caught off-guard when she discovered that I wasn’t Lebanese, but that I was Syrian instead. “How is it that in the ten years that I have known you, you have never mentioned it?” “I don’t know.” That was a lie. I have a very good explanation for why was I keeping my nationality a secret from everyone. Growing up, I was put under the impression that not being Lebanese like everyone else, (and being Syrian instead,) was a bad, bad thing. Let me just clarify that it wasn’t my family who made me feel that way, but some people whose names I don’t recall, whose faces are blurry, and whose discriminatory jokes and “you’re-way-below-me” looks have haunted me. I can’t forget how I dreaded going to get my residency permit renewed. I still do. I always feel like it is me versus the world. I am stared at whenever I hand someone my passport. I get a pompous Humpf! and I hear them say “sourriyye” and look like as if the word has left a bitter after taste in their mouths.
I don’t want to be unfair, I don’t like generalisations.
Not all people at “el amn el ‘am” are that way, but the ones that have marked me were. Every procedure had to be oh so bureaucratic and complicated.

“So you’re really not Lebanese?” It’s hard to know how to respond. I have lived all eighteen years of my life here. I graduated from school here. I just started going to university here. If it weren’t for my passport and residency permit, I would have forgotten that I wasn’t Lebanese. “My accent fooled you, didn’t it?” I say laughingly. “I had no clue.” “I know. That’s the point.” Why the shame? Why all the secrecy? I’m glad I’m finally starting to overcome them, but I still can’t help but feel my heart ache every time that I’m reminded of what I am and of what I am not. “Can’t you become Lebanese?” “Don’t you think I have tried?” airport-sign The only thing that has kept me from being Lebanese is the fact that my father gave me his nationality while my mother wasn’t allowed to. You would think that there are ways for me to get the citizenship. As if being raised by a single mother wasn’t enough of a good argument, (I mean, think of how much it could facilitate things for us.) I live here, I study here, this country has always been my home, and yet the simple fact my father, (with whom I have no contact,) is Syrian means that I can never truly belong. The fact that women cannot pass on their citizenship to their children is more than simply the result of sexist gender politics. Indeed, although many issues still remain, Lebanon has often been seen as a pioneer in the region when it comes to women’s rights. For example, women were granted suffrage in 1952, and this year a draft law has been made in order to protect women from domestic violence. If I were trying to fathom the causes behind the discrimination, I would hazard a guess that it’s in order to prevent the country’s famously large refugee population from becoming naturalised. Overnight, Syrians and Palestinians – many of whom have been living here for over 60 years – could wake up and become Lebanese. In a country continually teetering on the brink of another civil war, any move which might upset the demographic balance is not an option. So what’s the big deal with not being Lebanese? Being a foreigner might sound cool and exotic, but not when you are one in the only country that you feel that you belong to. First of all, being a foreigner means that I’m treated like one. Yes, all extra charges do apply. I need to get a residency permit and later on I’m definitely going to need a working permit.  I don’t get to benefit from public healthcare, which wouldn’t be such a problem if the private options weren’t so expensive. What bugs me the most is that the country I call my home rejects me. I’m as Lebanese as you can get. As a product of our trilingual education system, only a fellow Lebanese would be able to keep up when I mix French, Arabic and English all in the same sentence. I’m not the only one. There are lots of us out there. And whilst I do know that this is a “situation” to handle with utmost care and that it may be a long process, it has to change. It is shameful that in today’s world we let ourselves be divided by quotas and sects. Why let some words on some official document tear the country apart? Why would the country crumble if quotas aren’t respected? Why do we have so many things standing in the way of our individuality and achievements? Why be a statistic?

“So you’re really, really not Lebanese?”

“Not for now. Someday, maybe.”

Why not be more?


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