Citizenship, Statelessness and the Numbers Game in Lebanon

23 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2015

Date Written: December 16, 2014


Today and throughout its history, Lebanese politics has been marked by the struggle to unite a diverse community within a single political entity, as citizens of a single nation-state. Rather than challenging the country’s demographic divisions and installing a shared identity, Lebanon has developed a complex political system based on the proportional representation of different sects. Under such a system, demography matters and the attribution of citizenship becomes part of a numbers game. As such, since its inception, Lebanese citizenship policy has stood out as one of the most controversial areas of domestic law. It is against this backdrop that many thousands face exclusion and have been left stateless. Statelessness is indeed a significant problem in the country, affecting many people who were left out of the country’s original body of citizens and their descendants, as well as individuals and groups with other profiles. Children of Lebanese mothers who are unable to acquire a nationality from their father are often left stateless because of the very limited acceptance of maternal jus sanguinis. Real and entrenched obstacles to birth registration are hampering the recognition of Lebanese nationality for children across different segments of society. And safeguards against statelessness which are present in Lebanese nationality law function poorly and often do not ensure access to nationality in practice. This working paper explores some key stages in the development of Lebanese citizenship policy. A particular focus is on how the aforementioned numbers game has contributed to the appearance, resolution and, recently, the potential re-emergence of cases of statelessness. The paper concludes that the country is stuck in a stalemate in terms of debating any – even relatively simple – amendments to citizenship policy that might improve this situation. This, the paper concludes, is impeding access to nationality for persons with strong links to the country, and even for some who are clearly entitled to Lebanese citizenship under the terms of the law, perpetuating and prolonging statelessness in many cases.

Keywords: Lebanon, statelessness, citizenship, nationality, naturalisation

Suggested Citation

van Waas, Laura, Citizenship, Statelessness and the Numbers Game in Lebanon (December 16, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

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