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Lebanon Eager to 'Sell' Nationalities to Wealthy Syrians, Iraqis

Lebanon Eager to 'Sell' Nationalities to Wealthy Syrians, Iraqis

Sunday, 29 May, 2022 - 06:15
A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati & Nohra shows Lebanon's President Michel Aoun giving a televised speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on May 14, 2022 on the eve of parliamentary elections. (AFP/Handout/Dalati & Nohra)

Information has started to emerge in Lebanon that a new presidential decree was being prepared to naturalize hundreds of people, namely wealthy Iraqis and Syrians.

The naturalization of non-Lebanese has become a common move taken by presidents as their term nears its end. President Michel Aoun's term will end in five months.

Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that "offers" to receive the nationality have been submitted by wealthy Syrians "in exchange for massive funds for such a privilege."

Offices that are dedicated to naturalization are working tirelessly to draft the presidential decree.

The beneficiaries are likely wealthy Iraqis in Lebanon and Syrians residing abroad, added the sources.

Dozens of wealthy Syrians are keen on obtaining the Lebanese nationality because it would grant them the freedom to act away from sanctions imposed on the Damascus regime, they stressed.

The Lebanese nationality would largely free them from the sanctions and allow them to carry out foreign financial transactions, they explained.

It has become the norm in Lebanon for a president to grant the nationality days before their term ends and for varying interests.

Aoun had kicked off his term by issuing a decree that covered 200 people, mostly Syrians close to the regime and some of whom are on US sanctions lists.

However, sources at the Baabda presidential palace said the new decree "was not Aoun's priority at the moment because his attention is focused on other important issues," notably Lebanon's crippling economic crisis and reforms that would halt the country's collapse.

They acknowledged however, that naturalization requests have indeed been submitted, but they have been filed by people married to Lebanese citizens.

"The president has the constitutional right to naturalize whomever he believes deserves it," stressed the sources. "Every president issues a naturalization decree at the end of his term. This is a constitutional right."

They said that Aoun's predecessor Michel Suleiman had granted the nationality to 7,000 people and former president Elias al-Hrawi granted it to 300,000.

The Interior Ministry is the authorized power to issue a naturalization decree, but it has yet to receive a request.

A source at the ministry said a department at the ministry is concerned with inspecting the names of potential naturalization candidates and the minister is required to sign the decree.

Presidents are selective in issuing the decree in that the nationality is granted as a "reward" to wealthy figures, instead of people who actually deserve it. The decrees are rarely ever properly studied.

Public policy expert Ziad al-Sayegh denied that he had received any information about a naturalization decree.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, he hoped that the state would focus its attention on more pressing matters, such as saving the country from collapse.

He added that it was unfortunate that the decrees are issued selectively instead of following constitutional and legal standards.

He hoped the newly elected parliament would exert efforts in proposing that necessary standards be adopted in naturalization decrees and that the law and constitution would be respected.

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