Maronite Patriarch against naturalisation decree that benefits dodgy characters

The presidential decree issued secretly gives Lebanese citizenship to 375 foreigners, including Syrians and Iraqis, Christians and Muslims. Some of them are under suspicion for iffy connections. For Card Al-Rahi, they do not honour "Lebanese nationality". The life of the country itself is in danger. Maronite bishops meet to discuss Church, social and pastoral issues.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Maronite Church, at the urging of Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi and on behalf of its Bishops, has loudly called for "the withdrawal of the naturalisation decree" by which the President of the Lebanon granted citizenship to at least 375 foreigners.

Recently promulgated in a hurry and away from public scrutiny, the decree appears to benefit "dodgy" Syrians, Palestinians and Iraqis who "would not honour Lebanese nationality".

Many Lebanese are "worried", the cardinal notes, "not only for their families, but also for the country”. He points the finger at some of unnamed Lebanese leaders who "deviate from the general interest, for personal gain or that of (single) communities".

Added to this is the lack of interest in situations "that endanger the very life of the country".

Speaking about this major current issue, the head of the Maronite Church warns that the decree of "naturalisation" of 260 Christians and 115 Muslims "contravenes the preamble to the Constitution".

The latter, the cardinal goes on to say, prohibits any form of forced concession of citizenship to "foreigners" who are not of "Lebanese descent".

"How can one accept this when thousands of requests are pending before the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs", claims that have greater legitimacy than those that accepted surreptitiously in these troubled times.

The cardinal notes that the benchmark for granting nationality is jus sanguinis (right of blood) and not jus solis (right of the soil).

Ultimately, for Card Al-Rahi what matters is the implementation of a ruling by the Council of State that overturns the decree of naturalisation of 1994, which would have caused "a serious demographic imbalance" in the country.

At present, Lebanon’s National Assembly is vetting a bill that would modify the naturalisation law, which dates back to 1925 when the country was not yet independent.

Unofficial sources say that behind the harsh attack of the local Church lays a deep concern over the beneficiaries of the decree of naturalisation, who allegedly have close links to the Syrian government and Syrian President Bashar a-Assad.

Getting Lebanese citizenship would allow them to circumvent, according to some, (controversial) international sanctions and the economic and trade embargo against Damascus.

Meanwhile, the Assembly of the Maronite Bishops is currently in retreat, which began yesterday until Saturday, and plans to address Church, social and pastoral issues of primary importance for the life of the country.

Among the main issues are the ordination of the clergy, the reform of the liturgy as a source of unity, and the pastoral orientation.

Bishops will also study the possibility of setting up a special commission to look into the needs of some financially-strapped dioceses.