My first experiences with Arab tribalism derived from my time in Syria. My maternal grandmother’s family inhabited a small village near the city of Jisr al-Shughour (Idlib Governate) called “Halooz”. Halooz was a gorgeous, but relatively unknown village; that’s what I loved about it. I was surrounded by family, as most of the inhabitants inherited lands from their relatives. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I fell for the feudalistic pestilence that has plagued Arabs for centuries.
I felt entitled to that land and why shouldn’t I? “This is the land of my ancestors!” See, there was my first problem; the land does not belong to me. The land does not belong to my ancestors. The land does not belong to anyone. I am Syrian because I come from Syria – Syria does not come from me. This tribal tendency to feel some sense of elitism or self-entitlement is a cancer. How can democracy work in a society that is still stuck in medieval age thinking?
Prior to the Ba’ath Party rule in Syria, the country was politically pluralistic. However, coup after coup, politicians didn’t care about who was in power, they would just usurp their opponents if they were elected. In fact, Syria was just a country of tribes and warlords prior to the Ba’ath Party’s emergence to power. The Syrian Army was not even the strongest army in the country; the Druze possessed the strongest fighting force inside Syria. The first 10 years after Syria’s independence were volatile – there was no sense of patriotism or loyalty. Tribes in Homs and Aleppo were fighting each other over parcels of land that they claimed belonged to their families. How are we supposed to have equality when each group deems themselves superior to the others?
Fast-forward to 2011, the people of Der’ah and Homs are protesting the Syrian government. We are all under the illusion that they are protesting over the economic climate; that was not the case. Take a look at the areas that first immersed themselves in violence; it might shock you to learn that they all share similar characteristics. The FSA derived from military defectors from Al-Rastan, Bab ‘Amr, Bab Hood, and Tableesa in Homs. Still confused? These are tribal and sectarian areas. The people of Bab ‘Amr have carried a strong antipathy for their neighbors in the Al-Zahra neighborhood. Homs and Der’ah are not the only ones: Idlib, Aleppo, Latakia, Tartous, Deir ez-Zor, Al-Hasakah, Damascus, Al-Quneitra, Sweida, and Ar-Raqqa all have tribes. Yes, that is every Syrian province. It is not only Syria; it is Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon too. You cannot construct an equitable society for your citizens when your citizens possess a sense of entitlement.