Friday, May 05, 2017
Beirut: President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Sa‘ad Hariri on Thursday signed into law a decree that restores citizenship to Lebanese emigres.
Maverick Foreign Minister and self-appointed defender of Christian rights, Jibran Bassil, made the announcement at the well-attended “Diaspora Energy” convention, declaring that the “map of economic integration between expatriate Lebanon and resident Lebanon” would be best served by nationals, even if those were emigres.
He also said that ongoing and tricky discussions on a new electoral law included a proposal to allocate six parliament seats for Lebanese emigres — one per continent.
In the showcase convention, which Bassil developed several years ago, the minister urged the Lebanese emigres to return to their homeland.
He assured them that Lebanon under President Michel Aoun would abide by the “National Pact” without specifying what that meant.
Bassil could have been using the term “National Pact” as a code word to entice Christian Lebanese emigres to apply for citizenship to restore the demographic balance between Christians and Muslims — the vast majority of Lebanon’s diaspora are Christian.
The “National Pact is an unwritten 1943 agreement that established the country’s confessional foundation between Christians and Muslims. Although no reliable demographic data exists to confirm the actual number of Lebanese emigres spread around the world, the diaspora is estimated to include at least 10 million people who can trace their ancestry to Lebanon, with the vast majority in Latin America.
There are an estimated 7 million Brazilians today who can trace their origins to villages in Mount Lebanon.
Other large communities exist in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and, more recently, France, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Among Lebanese emigre leaders, including the sizeable populations in the Ivory Coast, Ghana and several African nations, many of whom have clamoured for representation in the parliament, may not be satisfied with the proposal for six seats. With some calling for at least 20 additional deputies, should their demands become reality, will raise the total parliament membership to 148.
For now, Bassil and the Free Patriotic Movement have only called for second and third generation emigres to return to their motherland and invest in its future.
“Our families are paying a new emotional tax, and while you have a duty to fulfil to the nations that embraced you, you also have a duty of loyalty to your motherland,” Aoun said at the convention. Speaking in English or Portuguese, several second and third-generation attendees interviewed on evening news broadcasts expressed their support to the citizenship restoration act.
It was not clear whether they would take up the citizenship offer in a country that grapples with chaotic socioeconomic cauldrons that included the presence of two million Syrian and one million Palestinian refugees — most of whom are Muslim.
Lebanese fought a brutal 15-year civil war from 1975-1990 which primarily pitted Muslims and Christians against each other.
The Taif Accords ended the war but Christians overwhelmingly feel their dwindling numbers compared to Muslims has put them at a political disadvantage and are seeking ways to boost their power in the country.
By Joseph A. Kechichian Senior Writer
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