With tribal structures having defined much of Libyan society, mixed marriages have never had an easy time.
The Arab’s negative social and cultural view of mixed marriages is due to the pre-Islamic tribal mentality that renounced exogamy (marriage outside of a particular social group), especially for local women.
Tribal young women were reserved in advance for their male cousins. If a male cousin did not want to marry his cousin however, she could marry someone else from within the tribe.
This tribal social mentality, though contradictory to Islamic values, has persisted in many Arab societies with tribal structures, including the Libyan society.
In the 1970s with Libya turning into a rich oil state, the formation of larger cities and more women becoming well-educated, the closed mentality of tribal marriages decreased, but it was very much alive in criticizing the marriages of Libyan men to non-Libyan women and in censuring the marriages of Libyan women to non-Libyan men.
Marriages of eastern Libyan men and Egyptian women and of western Libya men and Tunisian women were socially considered to be second degree marriages. These marriages however were widespread due to the burdening high cost of dowries and weddings. Mixed marriages to foreign non-Muslim women – even if they had converted to Islam – were very limited.
The social scene was contrary to the Constitution of the independent state of 1951-1969 as drafted under the supervision of the United Nations. It was a liberal democratic constitution more advanced than the constitutions of the Arab region at the time. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted as a legislative reference to the Constitution’s human rights articles, bypassing the culture and traditions of an illiterate Bedouin Libyan society that however was able to change and adapt to the requirements of modern times.
The royal Constitution considered Libyans to be equal before law and with equal civil and political rights, opportunities, duties and public costs. There should be no discrimination between them due to religion, sect, race, language, wealth, origin or political and social opinions. Any person residing in Libya with no foreign nationality was considered a Libyan if s/he was born in Libya, born to a Libyan parent, or resided in Libya for no less than 10 years. This meant that foreigners married to Libyans were allowed to obtain the Libyan nationality and their children were deemed Libyans.
Mixed marriages during the monarchy however were not common. And marrying foreign women did not prevent Libyans from holding political or civil positions. Skepticism about the national loyalty of a Libyan man with a foreign spouse was not prevalent, unlike under Gaddafi’s regime where there was no longer a constitution in the conventional sense, but legal legislation derived from the ideologies of Gaddafi’s Green Book, instructions and directives.
Under Gaddafi, the Arab Nationality category was developed given the nationalist Arabism ideology espoused by the regime. This Arab nationality was given to Arabs who wanted it, which allowed Arab children to Libyan mothers to have Libyan citizenship if their father acquired Arab citzenship. However, this right was not given to non-Arab children to a Libyan woman.
In the interim Constitutional Declaration issued after the 2011 revolution, all the legal provisions on nationality continued to be effective. As a result of the atmosphere of liberties that emerged after the fall of the regime, women’s civil associations and organizations appeared and they actively advocated Libyan women’s rights against forms of racial (gender) discrimination, including the rights of Libyan women married to foreigners. Such women, totaling 165,000, suffered huge problems. They demanded that the Libyan state comply with the provisions of ratified treaties and conventions to naturalize non-Libyan children and husbands of Libyan women.
Laws issued under the former regime in their favor have not been enforced. Additionally, there have been ideological religious factors through the Grand Mufti, Sadiq Al-Ghariani, who has religious jurisdiction over social and political life, with support from his followers at the General National Congress. Al-Ghariani, as a religious authority, officially asked the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) to stop the marriage procedures of Libyan women and foreigners, even if Muslims and Arabs, until things became clearer to the best public interest, arguing that this was a response to the repeated complaints that Iranian Shiites exploited the weak administration and insecurity and that Syrian Druze were increasingly marrying Libyans.
The MoSA and the Ministry of Justice under the Islamist salvation government promptly adopted Al-Ghariani’s fatwa. Libyan women were prevented from marrying Alawites, Druze and Shiites. This was a shift from an obsessive fear of spying and treason under Gaddafi’s nationalist ideology to an obsessive religious sectarian fear under the religious ideologies of the extremists dominating the Libyan Spring.