Posted by: sean | June 10, 2009

Women and nationality in the Middle East

nationality campaign

My Nationality: My Right and that of my Family

The Angry Arab quotes Electronic Intifada as saying, “Lebanon is one of few remaining countries in the Middle East where a mother is unable to pass citizenship to her children.”

That’s not true. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. To the best of my knowledge, the only Arab countries where a woman can pass on her citizenship to her children are Algeria, Egypt and I think very recently Jordan (although in the latter, it’s apparently very difficult in practice, and I believe there’s an exception made to exclude Jordanian women married to Palestinians). Here are a list of “reservations” made to the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (look for references to Article 9 paragraph 2, which gives women the right to give their nationality to their children).

Otherwise, Syrian women cannot give their citizenship to their children, nor can Palestinian women or those in the Gulf, the Maghreb (see update), etc. To the best of my knowledge, there is a loophole for children who are not recognized by their fathers. For more country-specific info, you can look here.

But what do I know? I’m just a white man, right?

UPDATE: May in the comments points out that Tunisian women can also give their nationality to their children. However, when I looked up the official code in Tunisia, I found that it doesn’t apply to children born abroad, only in Tunisia. This reform dates back to 1993 according to Freedom House.



  1. There was a reform in laws in Marocco recently, don’t know if women got the right to pass the nationality to their children (which, in my opinion, constitutes the only proof that they have full nationality themselves), no matter to whom they are married.
    But you definitely forgot Tunisia, which holds, so far, the more advanced civil status law in the whole Arab world concerning women’s rights, or so brag Tunisian women…correct me if I am wrong.

  2. Hi May. You’re right, according to Article 6 of Tunisia’s Code de la nationalité tunisienne, in addition to children of Tunisian women and unknown or stateless fathers, children born in Tunisia of foreign fathers and Tunisian mothers are also eligible for nationality. Children born abroad, however, do not apply, unless their father is Tunisian.

  3. Sean, I followed your link, and I found the text unclear, all the more so that Tunisian acquaintances confirmed my thought that women could indeed give the nationality wherever their children were born. The mother does need to ask for it at the Tunisian Embassy, and the papers take at least two months.

  4. “Art. 6. – Est Tunisien :

    1- l’enfant né d’un père tunisien;
    2- l’enfant né d’une mère tunisienne et d’un père inconnu ou qui n’a pas de nationalité ou dont la nationalité est inconnue;
    3- l’enfant né en Tunisie, d’une mère tunisienne et d’un père étranger”.

    I guess the relation between the points 1, 2 and 3 is OU, not ET.
    The point (2) does not mention birthplace.

  5. Hi May,

    Point 2 does not mention birthplace, but it mentions the status of the father, which is particular and a common provision in many Arab states to make sure that children don’t end up stateless.

    It says, “the child is born of a Tunisian mother and an unknown father or a father who has no nationality or whose nationality is unknown.” This means that if the father is unknown or stateless, then the child can take his mother’s nationality (if she is married to a Palestinian, for example).

    Otherwise, according to the law, if the child is recognized by the father and the father has a nationality, then the child has to be born in Tunisia in order to be Tunisian. Freedom House gives the same information on their country page for Tunisia in 2005.

    Of course there’s always the possibility that both of these sources are out of date and that the law has changed in the last 4 years. If that’s the case, I can’t find a copy of the updated law.

  6. To my knowledge, Syria has been in the process of reforming the law. Not sure if it has actually happened yet.

    Here are the existing laws:

    Josh Landis post on Syria Comment:

    UN report:

  7. […] Read the original: Women and nationality in the Middle East « the human province […]

  8. Actually, Egyptian mothers cannot pass their nationality on to their children IF the father is a Palestinian. This is somehow to ensure that the Palestinians will not forget Palestine, or something…

    I think that in practice Palestinian women living in the West Bank and Gaza can pass their nationality — though there is not yet a state — on to their children. This is despite the divergence between the 2003 Basic Law, which does not mention this, and the 2003 Draft Constitution, which does specify, in Article 12, that “Palestinian nationality shall be regulated by law, without prejudice to the rights of anyone who legally acquired it prior to May 10, 1948 or the right of any Palestinian who resided in Palestine prior to this date and fled, was forced to immigrate, or prevented from returning thereto. This right passes on from fathers or mothers to their offspring” … etc.

  9. […] a comment » Sean Lee, a non-Lebanese blogger in Lebanon (like me) pointed out today an error in a recent article that I wrote with Moeali about citizenship rights for women in Lebanon. […]

  10. The case is similar here in Lebanon, Mariam. There is a new nationality law in the works, and I’ve spoken to some people in the Ministry of the Interior who have told me that while they wanted to make it apply to all Lebanese women, it looks like the only way it will pass is by excluding Lebanese women married to Palestinians. Married to a Mongolian or Argentine or Congolese, no problem. Married to a Palestinian, you’re out of luck.

    Thanks for the links to Syrian laws, Nadia. Let’s hope it changes soon!

  11. A recent reform in Morocco’s Code de la nationalité makes Moroccan nationality transmissible by the mother or the father:
    Chapitre II : De la nationalité d’origine
    Article 6 :(modifié par la loi n° 62-06 promulguée par le dahi r n° 1-07-80 du 23 mars 2007 – 3 rabii I 1428 ; B.O. n° 5514 du 5 avril 2007) . Nationalité par la filiation parentale ou par la filiation paternelle
    Est Marocain, l’enfant né d’un père marocain ou d’une mère marocaine.

  12. Hi everyone, I’m Tunisian and my cousins whose mother is Tunisian and father is Lebanese have Tunisian nationalilty through their mother. They were both born abroad. I think the only difference is that if they were born in Tunisia they would have gotten nationality automatically. In this case their mother had to apply for them, so they’re not excluded it’s just not automatic. I’m going to call the consulate tomorrow anyways as I my husband is Palestinian/Lebanese and I want to double check, will let you know…assuming you’re interested :p

  13. Thanks for your interest, ya Mariem. Please let us know what you find out!

  14. […] of inequality in areas like inheritance and citizenship. (For more on the citizenship struggle, see here, here and […]

  15. Hi Sean, well they confirmed to me that the a Tunisian mother can transmit nationality to her children whether or not she is married to a Tunisian male, and regardless of where her children are born. If any of you are in a mixed marriage situation with a Tunisian, it’s very important to apply for your children’s nationality as this is required for inheritance rights! Also, if you are a Tunisian woman, your foreign husband can also apply for nationality provided he lives in Tunisia for 2 years.

    Sorry I took so long to reply…

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