Basketball Star Omari Spellman Was Just Granted Lebanese Citizenship

After three months of uncertainty, Cleveland native and professional basketball player Omari Spellman has been granted Lebanese citizenship, clearing the way for him to represent Lebanon in the upcoming International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup.

Spellman was scouted by the Lebanese Basketball Federation in October 2022, but the process of naturalizing him as a Lebanese citizen faced hurdles due to the presidential vacancy since October 31, 2022.

This stalled the process, as honorary Lebanese citizenship is typically initiated by the President of the Republic.

With the FIBA World Cup player registration deadline looming, it seemed unlikely that Spellman’s naturalization would be completed in time.

However, on April 18, a breakthrough occurred. An unprecedented decision under Constitution Article 62 allowed the Council of Ministers to grant Spellman citizenship in the absence of a president.

Lebanese Basketball Federation President Akram Halabi praised the cabinet’s decision, saying, “We are delighted that the cabinet took this decision, far from any political considerations. It is a very good thing that the interest of the national team has taken precedence in this whole story.”

The 25-year-old power forward has played in Asia since 2021, most recently with the South Korean Anyang KGC team, where he averaged 20 points per game this season.

At 2.07 meters tall, Spellman brings valuable experience to the Lebanese team as they prepare to compete in the 2023 FIBA World Cup held in Southeast Asia between August 25 and September 10.

Although fans eagerly anticipated Spellman’s citizenship to enable him to join the Lebanese national team, the situation highlighted the controversial citizenship laws in Lebanon.

The current laws prevent Lebanese mothers married to non-Lebanese men from passing on their citizenship to their children, an issue that has increasingly come under scrutiny in recent years.

An attempted amendment to the law proposed allowing Lebanese mothers to pass citizenship to their children if the father hailed from a country other than the “neighboring” ones, presumably referring to Syria, Palestine, and Israel.

However, this proposal never gained traction as the crises hit Lebanon. The intention behind the restriction may have been to avoid major demographic shifts and rushed marriages, given that Lebanon hosts a number of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, equivalent to 50% of its population. Approximately 500,000-600,000 Palestinian refugees also reside in Lebanon.

Adding to the complexity, Lebanon is in an official state of war with Israel. This makes it illegal for Lebanese citizens to interact with Israelis, further complicating the possibility of passing on citizenship without other repercussions.

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