The development of education policies is in many aspects driven by nationalist aims, especially when demonstrating postcolonial autonomy. In the case of Lebanon, Arab and Lebanese forms of nationalism have framed education policy development when transitioning out of the French mandate to an independent republic and during pan‐Arab movements against colonialism. Following 15 years of armed conflict (1975–1990), the reformed national curriculum for citizenship drew on a negotiated compromise between advocates of Lebanese and Arab nationalism to foster a unifying national identity. The practices and outcomes of citizenship education, however, reveal degrees of social exclusion, barriers to learning active citizenship, infringement on intellectual freedoms and denial of thinking historically. Evidence is drawn from empirical studies, the state of affairs of history education and student registration figures in Lebanese and non‐Lebanese systems. The findings raise debates on the role of language in citizenship education and suggest a need to reconceptualise the implementation of nationalist aims in education policies, especially by incorporating elements of cosmopolitanism.