Article 40 of the Personal Status Law issued on December 7, 1951 provided the following:
“He who leaves the place where his name has been listed in the population registry to take permanent residence in a different place, may not transfer his registration into the new area until after three years of continuous residence there. A declaration signed by the applicant, the Mukhtar and two witnesses shall be submitted to the personal status registry in the area where he has moved. The police or the gendarmeries shall verify the validity and permanency of his residence and the government retains the right to dismiss his application in case of compelling necessity.”
In August 2012, the Lebanese government prepared a draft law amending Article 40 by deleting the phrase ‘the government retains the right to dismiss his application in case of compelling necessity’ from the original text and adding the following: “The application shall only be approved after it takes into account the legal conditions, the demographic reality and the coexistence within the one Qada’a. The Ministry of the Interior and Municipalities shall dismiss the application if there seems to be a compelling necessity.”
At face value, the government proposal aims to prevent sectarian classifications within Qada’as. Yet, scratching beneath the surface shows that it also curbs sectarian fusion. If groups of Muslims decide to transfer their registration records to Christian areas or vice versa, the proposed amendment will not allow it because this, according to the government, alters the demographic and sectarian aspects of certain regions, to the advantage of political, electoral and other aspirations that could affect domestic order. The Lebanese government asserted that the amendment put forward does not contradict the Lebanese Constitution, which also emphasizes the need to preserve coexistence as a cornerstone for state building.
“The right of the individual to change his domicile falls within the public freedoms that should be safeguarded by the law, but within legal regulations that maintain both coexistence and the demographic reality of administrative divisions in Lebanon while at the same time promoting participation.”
The Lebanese are prohibited from moving their place of registration and perhaps the future will see the approval of other such laws preventing them from changing their domicile for sectarian reasons or, as per the proposition of one MP, banning them from purchasing plots of land from citizens professing different sects from theirs.
While the government and the political parties raise the banner of “national fusion”, all their practices prove to be severe blows to the freedom of the Lebanese citizens to reinforce the current sectarian and religious divisions.