Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why tribes matter in Syria

Tribes neglected and exploited by the Baathist regime in Damascus for decades are mobilising for life after Assad

Hassan Hassan, Wednesday 25 July 2012

"....Unlike other opposition figures who have little power base in Syrian society, Fares leads a powerful clan in the east of the country. His clan is part of the Egaidat tribal confederation, the largest and most prominent in that area, with at least 1.5 million members across 40% of Syria's territory. It also has kinship links to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

The Arab Gulf states' aggressive stance towards the Assad regime has been driven by these ties as well as by their anti-Iranian sentiment. From the early weeks of the uprising, members of the Syrian tribes in Deraa were appealing to their "cousins" in the Gulf to help them......

Tribal leaders who openly opposed the Assad regime have become a source of pride to their tribes. Nawaf al-Bashir, a leader of a prominent tribe in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf, is a popular figure because he joined the uprising early on. Previously, Bashir was a member of the Syrian parliament and represented the country in parliamentary delegations to the Gulf.

According to Kassar al-Jarrah, a cousin of Fares, all the Egaidat tribal leaders in Syria have called to express solidarity with the defected ambassador – despite historical rivalry. "They said that [Fares] has raised our heads high," Jarrah said. "Their respect for him has increased after he defected. The old tensions and competition have disappeared after his honourable act.".....

The tribes have been neglected, sidelined and exploited by the Baathist regime in Damascus for decades but in a democratic Syria that will certainly change. Members of the tribes inside and outside the country are organising themselves and have certain expectations when the regime falls.

"The tribes are handling the situation on the ground now [in the absence of government institutions] in terms of solving problems and maintaining social harmony," says Hussain Abdullatif, a senior member of the opposition Deir Ezzor Council in Doha. "It is true that the Free Syrian Army and activists are leading the battles against the regime but they generally follow the rules of their tribes."....."

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