Lebanese officials scramble to deal with controversy over naturalization decree

Despite Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouq's claims that State Security's Intelligence Gathering Division and INTERPOL already vetted the candidates, Aoun requested Major General Abbas Ibrahim of investigating the matter further
by Georgi Azar

4 June 2018 | 16:45

Source: by Annahar

  • by Georgi Azar
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 4 June 2018 | 16:45

FPM leader and Foreign Minister during his press conference on June 4, 2018 (NNA Photo)

BEIRUT: A recent naturalization decree continued to spark controversy Monday as government officials have yet to make the resolution public. Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouq, who received requests from lawmakers to release the names of naturalized foreign nationals, ruled out, after meeting with President Michel Aoun, the possibility of suspending the decree.

Aoun had tasked Sunday Major General Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon's General Security, with vetting those granted citizenship and "verify that they are worthy of Lebanese nationality" after widespread backlash engulfed the resolution. 

Mashnouq, who met earlier in the day with Abbas, released a statement claiming that the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces, INTERPOL and judicial authorities had already vetted the candidates before submitting the decree to Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri for approval.

The decree grants the Lebanese nationality to over 300 affluent applicants, including Syrians, Palestinians and GCC nationals as well as businessmen from the Americas and Europe. Media reports said a number of naturalized Syrians have close ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and have been the target of US sanctions on charges of money laundering and terrorism financing.

The decree was signed by Aoun, Hariri and Mashnouq on May 11, five days after the conclusion of the country's parliamentary elections and ten days before the Cabinet entered caretaker mode on May 21. 

Though the majority of those naturalized were Christians, the decree drew criticism from Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai who maintained that "the uproar toward the decree is justified." 

"When taking into account the nature of the decree, and how its content was concealed, and the comparisons to its 1994 predecessor, as well as the recent Constitutional Council's decision, then the uproar is justified," he said. 

A naturalization decree that granted citizenship to tens of thousands of foreigners, mostly Muslims, in 1994 under then-President Elias Hrawi and Hariri's late father Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, had drawn sharp criticism from major Christian parties after it altered the country's delicate demographic balance. 

On Monday, both the Kataeb and Lebanese Forces parties submitted two separate letters to the Interior Ministry demanding the release of the original of the copy of the recent decree in question. 

"Given the right of every Lebanese citizen to access the information they desire, and given that the decree was not published in the official Gazette, we ask that the decree be released," read the LF letter. The Interior Ministry did not clarify whether it was going to make the decree public or approve the request of the LF and Kataeb parties. After meeting with Mashnouq, Kataeb MP Nadim Gemayel quoted the outgoing Interior Minister as saying that the presidency and the premiership were responsible for publishing the decree.

Mashnouq's statement contradicts a statement released by president's office, in which the presidency asks Kataeb leader MP Sami Gemayel to send a request to the Interior Ministry, in response to a letter asking for the disclosure of the decree.

Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement leader and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil attempted to defend the resolution, arguing that it "helps safeguard Lebanon from the collective naturalization of thousands of refugees." 

"Collective naturalization is something we reject, but individual naturalization based on merit is something desirable." 

Bassil then denied allegations of bribery, saying that those granted citizenship "were worthy of Lebanese nationality," before urging the release of the nationalized foreigners' names.  

The Kataeb and LF are expected to submit an appeal to the Shura Council to overturn the resolution. Earlier this month, the Kataeb party spearheaded a campaign to overturn Article 49 of the state budget, which stipulated that any foreigner purchasing a property worth at least $300,000 would be granted residency status. The challenge was successful after the Constitutional Council struck down Article 49 of the 2018 state budget.

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