December 19, 2017 – Fort Russ News – Paul Antonopoulos – Translated from Descifrando la Guerra.
MADRID, Spain – Introduction
In 1916, a young officer of the British Army traveled to Jeddah in the framework of the First World War to meet with Faysal, the third son of the Sherif of Mecca Husayn Ibn Ali. In that meeting, the wick of an Arab revolt that was going to completely transform the board of games and interests in the whole region was lit. That young officer would later be known worldwide as Lawrence of Arabia.
The Arabs of the region launched an armed insurrection against the Ottoman Empire, dazzled by the British promises of an independent pan-Arab state in what has come to be known as the McMahon Commitment. These promises were bananas since at the same time, Great Britain and France secretly negotiated the Sykes Picot Agreement that would define the territorial ambitions of both powers in the Middle East once the Ottomans were defeated, turning the agreement signed with the Arabs into a dead letter. This episode of history left us with two notes that would shape and characterize the future of the entire region up to our days: the constant interference of foreign powers and the strategic importance of tribal communities. In the present article I will focus on this last issue, specifically in Syria. This is perhaps one of the least studied aspects of the recent conflict that takes place in that country, taking into account that the tribal population amounts to 12-17% of the total.
The Bedouin communities historically refer to tribal organized groups and Arab farming communities that descend from the ancient tribes of the Arabian peninsula. The name Bedouin comes from the Arabic and means “dweller of the desert”, also the words are used bedaui, badawi, bedu, badiya that means desert. These deserts spread in Syria up to 80% of the territory. Specifically, the tribes in Syria live mainly in three large geographical areas: al-Badia (desert / steppe), al-Jazira (the island, east of the Euphrates) and Hauran (southwest).
At the end of the XVII century beginning of the XVIII, there was an important migration of groups of tribes from Saudi Arabia towards the north, speculating as more probable reasons that some kind of plague or the rise of the Wahhabi movement was unleashed. This migratory stream belonged to two great tribal confederations: Shammar and Aneza. Most of the members of the Shammar tribe crossed the Euphrates to the northwest of Syria and Iraq. The Aneza community was established in the “Badiya” (desert) of Syria. This confederation includes tribes such as the Hassana, Ruwalla, Ageidat, Fedaan and Sbaa. Many of these tribes retain important ties with the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, the Saudi royal family is descended from the Hassana tribe and has ties of blood with other tribes such as the Ruwalla. In any case, the migratory movement of these two great tribal confederations that were dedicated mainly to the camel herding, provoked the first schism between tribes. Little by little they displaced other tribes towards the cities and they became powerful and independent tribes of the Ottoman authorities. They were called as noble tribes (asil). The tribes moved to the periphery of the cities, whose main activity was sheep farming and paid taxes to the Ottoman authorities received the denomination of non-asyl or common tribes. Examples of the latter are the Haddiyin or Mawali tribes.
The organization and functioning of the tribal communities of Syria began to be strongly influenced by a central authority from the time of the Ottoman Empire, as it began to be administratively established in eastern Syria within the reformist framework of the Tanzimat. The Ottoman strategy was to subdue or attract tribes through political and economic reforms. Some tribes began to pay taxes to the Ottoman governors established in large cities such as Aleppo or Damascus, in exchange for benefits such as for the children to be exempted from military service. Already at that time, the Ottomans began to buy the wills of some tribal leaders encouraging a competition to obtain the “favors” of the central authority, something that will come to recur recurrently throughout history.
Under the French Mandate (1920-1946), the central authority expanded its authority and control. Initially, they took measures to prevent incursions of the nomadic tribes in the colonized areas of western Syria. Do not forget that some tribes took part in the nationalist revolts of 1925-27. Beginning in 1930, the French tried to completely reorganize the structure of tribal societies. Trying to win the support of the tribes to defuse the nationalist boom. Thus, they begin to pay subsidies to tribal leaders, assign grazing and land ownership rights to some tribes, prohibit tribesmen from carrying arms in colonized areas and begin to demand payment of taxes.
At the same time, they assigned 9 seats in parliament to the members of certain powerful tribes. These measures end up undermining the authority of the tribal leaders in the sense that, by increasing security by the expansion of the state, the need to go to these leaders to coordinate self-defense and, on the other hand, state subsidies to the tribes diminishes. It makes leaders less dependent on the obedience of the members of their communities to maintain their power, increasing their confidence in their own ability to dispense patronage. An example of this phenomenon is the case of migrations in the 30s of the Hassana tribe, located near Homs. This tribe has enjoyed an outstanding position for belonging to the important Aneza confederation, linked with blood ties to the Royal House of Al Saud in Saudi Arabia. The transformations that took place in the tribal societies, caused that the extended family units of this tribe (beits) began to emigrate of independent and independent way of the traditional tribal authorities thanks to the greater security that provided a greater presence of the apparatus of the state.
At the time of the French Mandate, some tribal leaders became immensely rich thanks to state intervention. The authorities began to register the landowners from all over the country and many tribesmen and peasants came to avoid the taxes that accompanied the registration. Thus, for example, the Sheikh of Al Hassan Trad al-Milhem registered more than 20 villages in his name.
Finally, with the departure of the French from Syria in 1946, these advantages were abolished by relegating tribal leaders to the role of mere intermediaries between the new independent state and the members of their communities. The new nationalist government tries to reduce tribal influence, of Bedouins whose idiosyncrasy did not fit the profile of nation-state, and if of family loyalties. In 1956, the government repealed the Tribal Law that had granted legal status to nomadic tribes, including the right to bear arms. The union between Syria and Egypt in 1958 under Nasser and the subsequent government of the Baath party between 1963 and 1970, was a strong state drive to eradicate tribal societies and further reduce the role of their leaders. Thus, he carried out this policy by favoring those oppressed elements of the tribal communities through the redistribution of lands and the promotion of ordinary members of the tribes to political posts through their membership in the Baath party, all in detriment of traditional tribal authorities. In addition, the traditional herding system (hima) and the customary law of the tribes (urf) were abolished. Likewise, the 9 tribal seats of the parliament were reduced to 6, of which 4 were reserved for specific tribes: 2 corresponding to the province of Aleppo to the sheikhs of the Mawali and Haddiyin tribes, 1 to the leader of the Shammar confederation in the Jazira region and another for the Hassana tribe in the Damascus region.
The tribes in the era
With the arrival of Assad to power, the rigor with which they were treated by the Baathist authorities was tempered by Hafez al-Assad once he became president in the year 1970. In fact, he tried to capture its members and integrate them into the new political system. Under its guidelines, the Baath Party restores authority to tribal leaders by granting them some informal authority over their communities and allowing them to gain seats in parliament. Similarly, Hafez maneuvered deftly by offering positions and positions within the administration and security forces to important tribal leaders. The purpose of all this was to deactivate the numerical advantage in favor of the Sunni community regarding the religious affinities existing within the tribes. However, as the tribal leaders abandoned their communities and exchanged them for a discreet and quiet life in Damascus or Aleppo, they were on the other hand eroding their authority and ability to mobilize tribal networks in some way.
Unofficially, the powers granted to these tribal leaders were even greater since, while the police were in charge of the surveillance of minor crimes, in the case of serious crimes such as murder or rape, the authority of tribal and clan leaders was allowed as private matter of their communities. Exemplify perfectly this situation the popular saying in Raqqa of “Offer loyalty and do what you want” (Iti walaa wa-ifal ma tashaa). The government did not hesitate to use some tribes in an instrumental way for their interests, for example, to stop the rising of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama, in the year 1982. An example of this is the case of the Haddiyin tribe. Also, in 1973 the authorities displaced thousands of members of the Busha’ban tribe, who had lost their homes in al-Raqqa governorate due to the construction of a dam on the Euphrates River, in the framework of the project to establish a ” Arab Belt “in the Kurdistan that modified the demographic status of the region, decanted towards the Kurdish ethnic group at that time.
After the arrival to the presidency of Hafez’s son, Bashar al-Assad, the situation continued in similar terms. That same year the president issued an executive order to privatize all state farms, allowing tribal leaders who had lost large estates under the redistricting laws of the 1960s to recover them and even increase their possessions. A whole series of clientelist networks was established that was enormously profitable for the tribal leaders but that did not benefit the ordinary members of the networks. The privileges and economic benefits granted by the state to the tribal leaders demanded in return the obedience of the communities under their control, in what could be called the “tribal contract”, as opposed to the “social contract” formulated by Rousseau in the eighteenth century.
Even so, the Bedouin population of Al Badia due to its agricultural and livestock character, was hit hard by unemployment and was going to suffer in a remarkable way the consequences of a great drought that was going to take place from that same year, which produced the total collapse of the economy of eastern and southern Syria.
The Arab tribes of Syria are divided into qabilas (national and transnational tribal confederations) and `ashiras (individual tribes). The ‘ashiras are further subdivided into fukhud (clans), khums or ibn `amm (lineages), and at their lowest echelon, at al-bayt or aa’ila (extended families). The ‘ashiras are normally present in a specific region of the country. Examples are the ‘ashiras al-Haddadine in northwest Aleppo and Idlib, al-Muwali in Idlib and al-Damaakhla in Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa, Bani Khalid in west-central Homs and Hama and al-Zoubi in Daraa and along the border with Jordan.
The tribal organization is built on the basis of the concept of traditional family, patriarchal base, historically forming semi-autonomous groups of people united by blood ties that herded herds within their respective territories. The distinctive note of each clan is to share a common male ancestor, which at the same time brings together different groups or branches with respect to a common male relative even more distant. Each tribal group, from the smallest to the largest confederation, usually shares the name of the common ancestor that supposedly founded the particular group.
The tribal community itself is defined in terms of kinship, with patterns of behavior, both within and between groups, governed by kinship relationships. The kinship system also served to modulate the relationships between different clans and clan groups. The individual stands at the center of ever-widening circles of kinship relations that, at least in theory, eventually link him to all the other members of a tribe in a particular region of the country. The status of the individual within a clan is determined from birth according to the relationship of kinship with the rest of the members of the group.
On the other hand, due to the cohesion of religious and ethnic groups, another note characteristic of these tribal groups is inbreeding, or the marriage of members within the group. Lineages, or groups of families that trace offspring to a common ancestor, are also conditioned by inbreeding, although this is in fact less common, despite its theoretical desirability. Seen as a practical link between families, marriage often has political and economic connotations even among the poorest members of tribal communities.
As I said earlier, the family group and the individual home are based on blood ties between men. The typical home is formed by three generations living together under the same roof: elderly couple, married children, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law and, finally, grandchildren and single granddaughters as well as other patrilineal relatives. This pattern responds to what we might call extended family. Upon the death of the head of the family, adult children establish their own separate homes. It is normal for marriages to occur within the lineage and it is not uncommon for the child of the father’s brother, the first cousin, to be the person designated for the marriage. This practice is very common among Sunnis, Kurds and Turkmen and occurs in all kinds of social classes, being more rare in large cities.
The system of election of the members of the tribes remains invariable and is governed by traditional norms in spite of the different transformations and social changes operated throughout history. Within a tribe, only a specific family lineage generates its leader or “sheik” (sheikh). This family lineage “beit al-mashaykha” or “beit alashira” has an important status in the community. Any member of this lineage, including sheikh’s brothers, sons, cousins, and nephews, can theoretically access the tribe’s leadership after the death of the sheikh (as determined by consensus among tribal community / tribal council or majlis leaders) although in the practice the first-born son happens to the father. No element outside the tribe, not even the state, can impose on the leader from outside.
Tribal meeting in the Southeast of Syria / Courtesy of the Tribal Council of Palmyra and Badia.
However, the circumstances of economic hardship described above, which have significantly affected the youngest members of the tribal communities, coupled with the pressure exerted by the government authorities, have modified all the schemes related to tribal authority, transforming the The old vertical authority of the Sheikh, weakened over the decades, by a system of collective decision-making by larger and more complex tribal networks that surpasses the authority of a single person or family.
Tribalism and conflict in Syria
The members of the tribes, united by bloodlines, have the duty to defend the members of the tribe attacked by members of others, or by individuals alien to the tribal system. This behavior responds to the concept of intiqaam, which means revenge for real or perceived offenses committed against a relative. At the dawn of the uprising in Syria, a whole series of networks formed by young members of tribes, disaffected with the authorities, who lived in the cities but shared a common tribal identity.
There are well-documented events of malaise that existed in the moments before the revolt as the manifestation of the “Day of Wrath” that took place in the city with an important tribal presence of Hasaqah on February 5, 2011, in which networks participated tribes of the Jabbour, Ta’iy Ouinaza confederations.
One of the first acts of this uprising was the popular reaction to alleged torture suffered by several members of the al-Zoubi tribe in Daraa by government agents. The incident ignited the wick of new uprisings in other cities such as Deir al Zor, Homs or Aleppo, thanks to an impulse of solidarity and self-defense determined by the tribal customary laws (‘urf) starring young members of this tribe and others like the shammar , which were considered equally aggrieved.
The death of the child Hamza Ali al-Khateeb belonging to the al-Zoubi tribe in April 2011 in Daraa, at first became one of the main symbols of the ‘Revolution’ in Syria. It should be noted that one of the main opposition members in the region is Bashar al-Zoubi (Abu Fadi) commander-in-chief of the southern front and leader of the Yarmouk Brigade, who was a notable and wealthy member of the al-Zoubi community. . The main tribes of the region are, apart from the already mentioned al-Zoubi, the al-Hariri, al-Na’ime and al-Rifa’i. Many members of these tribes swell the ranks of various opposition groups and battalions operating in the area. All of them supposedly responded to customary law.
The tribal sheikhs exerted significant pressure to stop these protests in an attempt to preserve their status. This action provoked a series of squabbles between tribes, clans and lineages, thus dividing between Assad loyalists and opponents. Subsequently, the very dynamics of the conflict has subjected the tribes to enormous pressure to take sides with one side or the other.
Do not forget that the Revolt in Syria, unlike its predecessors in Tunisia or Egypt driven by the urban classes, began in rural areas and around large cities, becoming a protest from the periphery against the center. In this sense, tribalism has played a key role in the spread of protest throughout the country, by its very nature and dispersion. Once the generalized violence was unleashed, some tribal groups armed themselves as a measure of self-defense. Both sides in the contest, government and opposition, have mobilized their resources to attract these groups to their land and use them politically and militarily in the struggle.
For example, the Bani Khalid and al-Muwali tribes have active fighters in the armed opposition and perfectly exemplify the role of a local ashira within the conflict that takes place in western Syria. Thus, some battalions of the Bani Khalid tribe, fight under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (ELS) participating in the battle of Homs and its suburbs. Another example of this is the “Shield Brigade” of the same tribe in Hama. Similarly, members of the Al-Muwali tribe have fought against the Syrian army in the vicinity of Ma’rat Numan, south of the city of Idlib, where the presence of this tribe is remarkable. There are three battalions in the opposition forces of western Syria that proclaim their tribal origin, without referring to a specific tribe. One of these groups is the “Battalion of the Free Tribes”, also active in the area of Ma’rat Numan. This battalion operates under the umbrella of the armed Sunni opposition group Ahfaad al-Rasul (descendants of the Prophet). Another tribal battalion was created in Daraa, formed in February 2013 by army deserters with tribal origins from several provinces, called the “Free Tribes of al-Sham”. This battalion would be integrated into the “al-Omari” brigades, affiliated with the group “Alwiya Ahfaad al-Rasul” in Daraa. We must also mention the “Front of the Syrian Tribes” formed in Aleppo in April 2013.
Nor should we forget the role played by the large transnational tribal confederations such as Ougaidat, Baggara and Shammar. For example, qabila al-Na’im which is one of the largest in Syria and some of whose members formed a brigade in the Damascus countryside. The qabila Ougaidat was raised as one of the most active in the fight against Assad, forming the Ougaidat Tribal Brigades, very active in the city of Homs, Rastan and Deir al-Zor, extending to the border with Iraq in the towns of Mayadin and Abu Kamal They also took an important role in the battle for Idlib. This confederation has taken an important role in the exile group Council of Arab Tribes of Syria. Some members of the Ougaidat confederation and prominent opponents are Shayk Nawaf al-Faris, former ambassador to Iraq, Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, important military leader in Aleppo until his resignation or the former head of the Political Security Division of Latakia, General Nabil al-Fahad al-Dundal.
Many of the great tribes of the Northeast and East of Syria such as Shammar, Baggara, Jabbour, Dulaim and Ougaidat have close and strong ties with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This has been a determining factor that has allowed the internationalization of the conflict through the entry of weapons and equipment through transnational tribal networks.
There are cases of wills found within the same tribal confederation, whose members are torn between support for Assad or the opposition. This is not strange if one takes into account the character and local reach of these tribal groups and their lack of cohesion and dispersion throughout Syrian territory. In addition, one has to take into account once again the years of clientelistic politics applied by the central government, which has ended up undermining the traditional tribal model and, in a certain way, the authority of its leaders. We can even speak of changing wills according to the course of the war. This is the case of the Baggara confederation, many of whose members have converted to Shiism. In the area of Aleppo, numerous members of this tribe have fought in the ranks of the Syrian army. One of its most prominent leaders in Deir ez-Zor, Shayk Nawaf Raghib al-Bashir fled to Turkey to join the Council of Arab Tribes and lead the Jazirah and Euphrates Front to Liberate Syria. After the military defeat of the opposition in Aleppo in December 2016, al-Bashir returned to Damascus and pledged allegiance to Assad and the Syrian army, probably in an attempt to play a leading role in his hometown of Deir ez-Zor in the postconflict
Shayk al-Bashir himself was in charge of organizing armed groups that have actively fought the Kurds in the ethnically diverse city of Ras al-`’Ayn (al-Hasaqah). This type of actions have highlighted another of the great problems of the board in Syria, such as the Arab-Kurdish antagonism and the fragile coexistence in the region, the result of historical frictions between both ethnic groups that occur mainly in the areas of Hasaqah and Qamishli. Another example of this circumstance is how members of the Ta’ie tribe organized in the pro-Assad Popular Committees (later Syrian National Defense Forces) under the orders of the member of parliament, Sheikh Muhammad Fares, reportedly would have been involved in fighting in the Qamishli area, facing Kurdish fighters of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Despite having been officially denied any involvement in the incidents by the latter, the tension between the two communities is evident.
Making a parenthesis about the Ta’ie or Tayy tribe, which can be found in both Syria and Iraq, it seems that this group originally comes from Yemen, although we could also be before Arabized Arameans after their forced conversion to Islam. During the genocide of 1915, the Yazidi caudillo of Sinjar Hammo Sarro along with his friend Mohammad Sheik, leader of the Tayy tribe, gave shelter to numerous Armenian Arameans and Christians who fled the massacre.
Another example can be found in the Haddiyin tribe, forming tribal militias for or against the government depending on whether the creator is a traditional leader (generally, they support the government) or a younger member. Within this tribe, some members fought with opposition in the vicinity of Aleppo. Others, however, have remained loyal to the Syrian government as part of a militia run by Defense Minister Fahad Jasem al-Frej, who belongs to the Hadidiyin tribe, in the vicinity of Idlib. This militia collaborated in supplying food to the government forces besieged in Aleppo. After occupying the areas where this militia fought in Idlib, Jabhat al-Nusra managed to capture Sheikh Nayef al-Saleh of the Hadidiyin tribe and beheaded him in public for his help to the military related to Damascus. In particular, he was accused of introducing food for the fences at Abu Duhur military airport. There are members of the Baggara tribe fighting on the side of the Syrian government against the opposition in Aleppo, while other members of the same tribe do the same but with the opposition in Deir Ezzor.
Finally, the powerful shammar confederation, present in the Hasakah region, through its leader Shaik Hamidi Daham al-Hadi, has been involved in the conflict by participating with a few thousand fighters in the “Sahadid Forces” led by their own son Bandar al-Humayi, who in turn are integrated into the SDF (Democratic Forces of Syria) fighting against the Islamic State in northwestern Syria. This conglomerate of opposition groups has a strong Kurdish presence in its ranks and receives important support from large foreign powers such as the United States. However, they also bring together fighters of Arab origin to try to overcome this Kurdish-Arab antagonism and appease the villagers while occupying more and more territories to the south. In addition, this militia of the Shammar tribe has important connections with the Gulf monarchies.
The qabila shammar groups many sub-tribes such as the abdah, aslam and zoba, it is estimated that its population amounts to 3 and a half million in the region. It also enjoys important connections with groups in the provinces of Al Anbar and the area of Mosul, in neighboring Iraq, trained and armed by Western powers.
On the other hand, the government reacted from the first moment trying to bring to its cause the greater number of sheikhs and members of tribes. He sponsored a series of conferences under the name of “Forum on Syria and Arab Tribes and Clans”, emphasizing their role as the first line of resistance to foreign intervention in the war. In the surroundings of Hasakah, members of the Ta’i and Jabbour tribes fight in the ranks of the government due to the precarious situation of these communities in the face of pressure from Kurdish groups. In general, the oldest sheikhs and the traditional leaders have been more cautious when supporting the revolt, thus producing an important generational fracture in the tribal networks.
In short, as you can see the Bedouin tribes are powerful entities on the board of the current conflict in Syria, especially in certain geographical areas where the presence of the state has been weak or almost nil and as such, all local and foreign actors of the conflict they have tried to influence them to attract them to their cause, with the sights set on the framework that is generated after the war.
Tribes and boom of the Islamic State
The rise of the Islamic State and its struggles with Jabhat al-Nusra in eastern Syria at the end of 2014 were going to have dramatic consequences and produce a major inter-tribal fracture in many clans. Thus, the clans of the Egidate tribe divided their allegiances between Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS. The background of the clashes was none other than to settle who seized the important oil fields of the region of Deir Ez Zor after the withdrawal of the Syrian army. Members of the Al-Bakir clan have fought aligned with ISIS while members of the al-Bukamel and Sheitha clans took part by Jabhat al Nusra in their battles against ISIS. The movements on the board resulted in the complete defeat of Nusra and her allies, who were displaced from their populations and massacred in some cases, as happened with the crucifixion of more than 700 members of the Sheitat tribe south of the province of Deir. E Ezzor, in the cities of Abu Hamam, Al-Kashkiyah and Ghranij.
Members of this clan were organized into a tribal militia called Ussud al-Sharqiya (Eastern Lions) formed by a few hundred combatants under the command of Tlass al-Salam (Abu Faisal). Other members, after the rout caused by the defeat, fled to Kurdish territory, went to swell the pro-government side in Homs or swore allegiance to the Islamic State.
Turkey, as it could not be otherwise, fearful of the rise of the Kurdish autonomy favored by the PYD in the north of Syria, has also played the tribal card promoting the creation of the “Army of the Eastern Tribes”, grouping the heads of 45 clans of Deir al-Zor, Hasakah and Raqqa. In this way, it intends to take advantage of the old Arab-Kurd rivalry to try to counteract the growing influence of the PYD in traditional territories of the Arab tribes and, in passing, face the threat of the PKK and its related organizations.
The Islamic State has done the same, releasing videos in which several tribal leaders Baggara, Egidate, Jabbour and Bu Sha’an took oath to the Caliphate. The jihadists try to take advantage of the sociological changes in the tribal structures, and thus attract a new generation of ambitious leaders who reject traditional structures, offering them charges and benefits of oil smuggling. This could be the case of one of the former senior officials responsible for the security of the Caliphate in Raqqa, Abu Abd Al-Rahman Al-Amni, better known as Ali al-Sahou of 28 years, who would have recruited young people from his tribe “Bu Sha’ban “and others for ISIS.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the role played by Jordan in the South Front of the war, promoting tribal militias, trying to counteract the influence exerted by the Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra. Thus, Jordan supported the creation of the “Army of the Free Tribes” formed by combatants of different clans. The bulk of this body is made up of members of the Nu’im tribe, who have important ties with countries such as Qatar and Bahrain, although members of the al-Hariri, al-Masalmah, al-Zoubi and Fadl tribes also militate.
In the same region, the US-backed militia Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra or New Syrian Army (later Comandos Revolucionarios), of important tribal composition, also suffered major military setbacks in the city of Abu Kamal. Another prominent group is Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, formed by members of the al-Mashhura, Albu Assaf, Albu Khamees, Jais, Albu Shamis, Albu Jarad, Albu Issa, Raqqa.
Tribalism is an important factor to be taken into account in the dynamics of the current conflict that is currently taking place in Syria, both in its development and in the scenario that arises once it ends. In fact, all the actors involved, both internal and external; The United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Turkey have tried to instrumentalize the tribes in order to use their networks and influences. What has come to be called the Syrian Revolution within the series of revolts in the Arab world, unlike the previous “urban” uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, is a revolution of the periphery, of the rural world, where tribal communities have played a central role.
The very development of the conflict has followed a pattern of action already known and developed in other parts of the world. Jihadist groups like Al Qaeda try to find sanctuaries in border regions, usually inhabited by tribal members, such as Waziristan in Pakistan, Shabwa in Yemen, Al-Anbar in Iraq or, in the case at hand, the steppe of Syria. These are regions in which the state authority has little or no presence and can operate with relative ease, deploying insurgency and guerrilla tactics.