Marching with the Nationality Campaign: A Foreign Guy’s Impression

Posted on 05 August 2011 by

On Wednesday July 27 Beirut saw hundreds of people protesting against the Lebanon’s nationality law in the late afternoon, which denies women the right to pass their citizenship to their children (in practice the children of women married to foreign men are not considered citizens). The march was organized by WLP Lebanon/CRTD-A and showed a successful turn out of women, as well as men and children, from all walks of life.

The author, Mend Mariwany, at the Nationality Campaign Protest

Approximately 800 people were marching to express their dissatisfaction with the discriminatory law that denies women in the majority of Arab countries the right to extend their nationality to their husbands and children. Protesters moved from the Interior Ministry in Sanayeh to Riad Solh square, where organizers handed a draft law to Omar Natour, the Director General of the Justice Ministry, himself designated by the new Prime Minister, Negib Mikati, to follow-up on this demand.

On the day of the march, as I made my way to the point of assembly, I passed by a small coffee shop. The T-Shirt I wore that day bore the logo and slogan of the Nationality Campaign, which was sure to attract attention. I made the order in my strong Iraqi dialect and while the broad-shouldered man was preparing the Turkish coffee he laid his eyes on the top. He soon began interrogating the purpose of my showing up at the campaign in an intimidating manner. What posed the biggest problem to him was not the campaign itself but someone’s involvement in the issue who is not of Lebanese origin. Further, he took great issue with someone acting on matters that do not pose a direct threat to the individual himself. I saw this as an opportunity to articulate my feeling of responsibility to show solidarity and support for the marginalized. However, the man warned me against participating in matters that do not regard me directly.

Contrary to this, an intrinsically different event occurred a few days after the march. I was sitting on the pillion of a taxi on the way to the CRTD-A office when the driver caught a glimpse of the badge for the Nationality Campaign on my bag. Out of the blue, he eagerly initiated a cheerful conversation on women’s right to equality. To him, the absence of a woman’s right to extend her nationality seemed of great concern. For the rest of the journey I remained mostly silent, enjoying the passion he found in talking about such a sensitive issue from his encouraging perspective.

As a student of International Politics at a politically charged university in London, I have helped to organize and participated in marches before. Part of mobilization and activism is to engage in conversations and face critical voices. At times this also means finding oneself frustrated or perhaps even intimidated by other people. It is for this reason that awareness campaigns such as CRTD-A’s Nationality Campaign becomes vital in the work of women’s rights activism, parallel with mobilization campaigns, to raise issues intellectually.

The two contrasting experiences with ordinary men in Beirut present the often radically differing perceptions towards women’s rights and, in this case, particularly that of the Nationality Campaign.

This highlights the pertinence of awareness campaigns to encourage individuals to recognize that notions of solidarity benefit the greater society as such. Mobilizing people in support of women and against the current nationality laws throughout the Middle East is imperative in the struggle for gender equality.

The author, Mend Mariwany, is an Iraqi-born German citizen who recently joined WLP Lebanon/CRTD-A as a student intern. His first introduction to Lebanon and to the Partnership was his active participation in CRTD-A’s march for women’s right to citizenship in July.

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