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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Was Badia Masabni Lebanese or Syrian?

 

By Priscilla Adum

 

 

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Introduction

Many people say Badia Masabni was Syrian, because she was born in Damascus. Others say she was Lebanese because of her father's Lebanese heritage. Which is accurate?

Although it's true that modern-day Lebanon was at times encapsulated within the borders of the nation-state of Syria, the Lebanese people have long seen their identity as being separate from Syria. During Ottoman times, when Turkey ruled the entire eastern Mediterranean, the Lebanese people maintained a cultural identity that was distinctly separate from Syria.

In many parts of the world, including the Middle East, people's citizenship and identity are based on their lineage instead on the nation-state borders that may have been in place at the time of their birth.

Article 1 of the 1925 Nationality Law in Lebanon stipulates that everyone born to a Lebanese father is considered Lebanese for citizenship purposes. This provision applies to legitimate children whether in Lebanon or abroad. (1) Laws in Syria also link citizenship to the father's lineage, and not to the mother's.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Badia Masabni poses with a lyre.

Badia Masabni

 

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Badia Masabni's Background

The numbers in parentheses refer to footnotes at the bottom of this article that identify the sources.

Citizenship

Badia Masabni was born in Damascus, Syria to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother. (2) (3) As noted above, both Syrian law and Lebanese law say that children's citizenship is based on the father's citizenship, regardless of where the child was born or who the mother was.

For this reason, Badia Masabni was considered Lebanese, not Syrian. At the time she was born, the Middle East was still under Ottoman rule, so Badia was considered a Turkish citizen. However, after the Ottoman empire dissolved in the 1920's, Lebanon passed the laws that would make Badia eligible for Lebanese citizenship.

Lebanon's Council of Ministers ruled that Lebanese citizenship can be acquired after birth by persons of Lebanese origin who resettle in Lebanon and request it. According to this law, any kind of evidence, including records of civil status, official documents issued by the Administration or by the courts, or references to the applicant or his family contained in the family history records is accepted. The man's wife and children were also allowed to become Lebanese citizens this way. (4) As the daughter of a man with Lebanese roots, Badia would have been eligible for this.

Before Badia Masabni settled in Egypt in 1926, she worked throughout the eastern Mediterranean area, including Lebanon. She had cousins from her father's side of the family in Beirut, and she also lived and worked there as a performer at times. It seems reasonable to expect that she would have established her Lebanese citizenship at this time. After this, she spent 24 years in Egypt, until she sold the Casino Opera in 1950 and relocated back to Lebanon.

Tareq Hashem, a journalist who wrote a series of articles about Badia Masabni based on her memoirs, reported that she was reinstated as a Lebanese citizen on September 29, 1950 by decree #3038. (5)

Hashem's article wasn't clear on why Badia needed reinstatement. There are a couple of possibilities:

  1. It could be because she left Lebanon to live in Egypt for many years. If that's why her citizenship was suspended, then a "restitution of citizenship" law passed in 1946 could have been invoked to reinstate her. That law allowed persons of Lebanese origin who had left prior to 1924 to reinstate their Lebanese citizenship by returning to Lebanon permanently.
  2. While living in Egypt, Badia married Naguib el-Rehani, who was Iraqi. At that time, Lebanese law did not permit her to transmit her citizenship to her foreign husband. (6) Women typically would take on the husband's citizenship and lose that of their birth. According to a 1925 law, after el-Rehani died, Badia would have been allowed to resume her Lebanese citizenship. (7)

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Badia Masabni appears in an advertisement for an Egyptian store that sells pianos made in Germany.

Culture

In a 1966 interview, journalist Layla Rostum asked Badia, "Are you originally from Syria or from Lebanon?" Badia's immediate answer was to state that her father was from Beirut, which is in Lebanon. (8) A Middle Eastern listener would have understood this to mean that Badia was from Lebanon.

Although Badia did add comments about her mother's Syrian lineage and the fact that she was born in Syria, this could be explained as a desire to offer a nod to the Syrian aspect of her personal history.

When Badia was 8 or 9 years old, her family moved to Argentina, where they stayed for 7 years. (9). By the time she returned with her family to Syria, she would have spent nearly half her life living in South America. She learned to read and write in Spanish, not in Arabic (10).

Badia Masabni

 

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My Own Family's Experience

My grandparents emigrated from Lebanon in 1926 from Al Kafer (which, by the way, is very close to where Badia's family still lives to this day in Sheikhan). We have never called ourselves Syrian, even though at times national borders in the region have included Lebanon within Syria. We identify as Lebanese, and did so even before Lebanon became separate from Syria.

When my grandfather emigrated from Lebanon to South America in 1926, the Ecuador immigration authorities issued him a foreigner's identification document. This ID is based on information that he provided, and also on information found on his travel documents. It shows that he identified as Lebanese even before Lebanon gained its independence in 1943.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo shows Badia Masabni. The caption announces her opening of a new theater.

Badia Masabni

 

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Closing Thoughts

Badia Masabni's nationality was Lebanese because her father was Lebanese and she met the criteria to qualify for Lebanese citizenship.

Even if born in Damascus of a Syrian mother, Badia Masabni was a daughter of a Lebanese father; hence, she would be considered Lebanese.

Except for the Jews who confer Jewish status based on matrilinal descent, most Middle Eastern tradition links a person's national ties to the father's homeland, and not to the place where the person was born. By both law and customs of the Middle East, Badia Masabni was Lebanese.

Badia Masabni

 

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Footnotes

  1. This information appears in Lebanon Country Report (On Acquisition and Loss of Citizenship) by G. Hourani, Ph.D., which describes in detail the legal framework for determining Lebanese citizenship that would have applied to Badia Masabni's situation.
  2. In a series of articles for Al Jareeda based on Badia Masabni's autobiography, journalist Tarek Hashem reported that Badia's father was Lebanese. See http://www.shira.net/about/badiabio01.htm for the English translation, or http://www.aljarida.com/articles/1461904462153116200/ for the Arabic original.
  3. In a 1966 interview, Badia states that her father was from Lebanon and her mother from Syria. The English translation is at http://www.shira.net/about/badia-interview-1966.htm and the Arabic original at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yBO4TELvqQ .
  4. Refer to the article cited in #1 above, page 21.
  5. Tarek Hashem's article, which was based on Badia's autobiography, provided the information about her reinstatement. It appears at http://www.aljarida.com/articles/1461877795995043500/ .
  6. This is discussed extensively in the article referenced in #1 above.
  7. See page 23 of the article referenced in #1 above.
  8. See the interview referenced in #3 above.
  9. In the interview referenced in #3 above, Badia talks about moving to Argentina when she was 8 or 9 years old.
  10. Part 4 of Tarek Hashem's biographical series of articles about Badia Masabni mentions that she could read and write in Spanish, but no in Arabic. See http://www.shira.net/about/badiabio04.htm for the English translation, or http://www.aljarida.com/articles/1461916585808733100/ for the Arabic original.

Badia Masabni

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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