Tribalism and the Arab world, how will it be eventually solved?

Tribalism in the Middle East is very much a prevalent issue and I was wondering why it is still around after so many years? Did the West have this same sort of tribalism, how long will it take before it eventually loses its grip on their societies?

It’s still present in many parts of the world other than the middle east, too. For example, the genocide in Rwanda was tribal-oriented.

I’m focusing on the Middle East because they are states which are more developed than most of Africa, I was wondering if any nationalism in the Middle East is present, or do tribal loyalties take a precedent.

Tribalism is also present in ivory jungles such as Washington D.C.

In situations such as the Sunni/Shia/Kurdish divides we see causing problems now in Iraq, the abscence of an overriding nationalism is simple - many of the present-day boundaries were created artificially. They ignored the presence of potential ‘nations’ such as the Kurds, for short-term political reasons.

It’s no coincidence that the most successful and stable countries in the region are those small ones successfully created around existing tribal and factional backgrounds - Kuwait, Qatar, UAE etc.

Problematically, those policial borders aren’t going to vanish because its inconvenient or inspires muderous rages in/to anyone. The tribes tend to have somewhat incompatible cultres, and more importantly, a strong history and identity and no reason at all to trust each other.

More problematically, in each such grouping one group has acheived supremacy, at least for now, and tends to use its power to oppress and subjugate inasmuch as possible the others. This has essentially led to a situation where the other groups have nothing but venom for the ruling tribal affiliation.

So what do we do then? I mean if theres no way to get tribes to work together for the greater good, and all we’ll see is mounting warlordism and tribal hatred, what do we do?

My guess is that such things as I suspect you’re signifying with the word tribalism arise from some similar roots as American street gangs, the Mafia and other simialr extra-legal entities.
In particular, the needs to protect one’s person, family, belongings and interests in the absence (or perceived absence) of effective legal remedies.

IIRC, the relevant elements of MENA cultures that we’re discussing developed under the persistent influence of warfare and corrupt/unresponsive government (particularly relevant are those of the non-local/imperial type) every few generations for quite some time now. (Maybe Tamerlane will be by to spray details and corrections at us from his fount of knowledge.)

I think that frequently (in historical terms) too many members of the local populations were unable to expect reasonable protections under the law, unable to expect to “get satisfaction” through legally sanctioned means such as courts for trust in the legal processes/government for trust in the ‘rule of law’ to become a thoroughly entrenched norm.

When the police and the courts can’t be counted on for protection or fair arbitration and settlement of contract disputes people find their own ways to protect themselves and their interests.

(Arguably, even if it’s conceded that ‘tribalism’ fulfills some of these functions, that doesn’t necessarily mean that tribalism arose (even just in part as I’ve guessed) to meet those functions.)

If it is true that aspects of what’s being called ‘tribalism’ fulfill people’s needs for protections that are not met otherwise as I’ve guessed, then it stands to reason more trustable government (and thus more trustable police, courts, legal processes etc) for several generations could lessen the prevalence of what’s (prob’ly) being called ‘tribalism.’

Perhaps Tamerlane will stop by to provide more informed and insightful analysis.

You look at news reports from N. Sudan…what’s this all about? The people who are fighting all look the same…is this a tribal tiff?
This leads into my question: should the US (or any outside force) decide to get involved in this, what would happen? My guess is that it would be like Somalia-the outside force allies itself with once side, thus incuring the wrath of the other side.
I for sure would NOT want to send military forcesinto this mess! :cool:

Is that a joke?

Are you talking about D.C. politicos or D.C. street gangs?

You know, flattery will get you nowhere.

No…wait…that’s a total lie :).

Anyway a post I wrote ( slightly edited ) in GQ awhile back somewhat addressing this topic from the historical angle:

*In most parts of western Europe the disappearance of an adherence to an explicit tribal system in appears to have occurred in the 9th-12th centuries. For example most of the “Stem Duchies” of the early German kingdom were tribal in origin - Bavaria ( Bavarians - a merged super-tribe of the old Quadi, Marcomanni, and others from that region in the late Roman period ), Saxony ( Saxons ), Swabia ( Alemanni ), Franconia ( East Franks - those that hadn’t migrated to Francia ), plus subterritories like the sometimes quasi-seperate County of Frisia ( Frisians - originally offshoots of the Saxons who had settled the swamps and wetlands of the German coast ) and the Landgravate of Thuringia ( Thuringians - a German tribe originally near the Danish border that had migrated into central Germany ). Only Lorraine, a northern chunk of the old ‘Bowling Alley’, the very artificial kingdom of Lotharingia created by the Treaty of Verdun in 843 ( which seperated the Carolingian empire into thirds, with Lothair I keeping the title of Emperor and the central territories - hence ‘Lotharingia’ ), was not tribal in origin.
The biggest cause for the breakdown of those older tribal ties in much of the west was probably feudalization, which replaced one model of extra-familial loyalty and allegiance with another. Old tribal dynasties died out and were replaced by completely outside families that re-vamped the old system of subordination. Further, the ever-increasing subdivision of territories in feudal Germany quickly eroded traditional tribal allegiances.

In other areas like France, Italy and Spain, the incoming Germanic tribes were never anything beyond of thin ruling veneer over a much greater Latinized populace that had been “de-tribalized” long before. For the most groups like the Burgundians and Visigoths had largely disappeared as seperate identities fully by the 8th-9th centuries. Of course one could still find linguistic and other divisions in these countries - there was for example a real linguistic and cultural distance between northern and southern France, as seperated by the Massif Central, with the dialectical differences of Langue d’Oil ( from which descends modern French ) and Langue d’Oc serving as just one marker of this. But this was not the same as a tribal identification.

By contrast in the Middle East we have a conquest by a very tribal people, the Arabs, over settled urban and agricultural areas, who initially lived as a parasitic class and found the tribal system very useful in perpetuating their rule and in dividing internal opposition. Further this was an area with much more extensive marginal lands than Europe, where pastoralism/transhumanance, both seemingly promoters of tribal political systems, were often the most efficient use of the land. This was exacerbated by both the multiple Turkic eruptions, that intoduced new populations of pastoralists that displaced agriculture, as well as trends towards desertification, which did the same. Further from the late Abbasid period until at least the 16th/17th centuries ( and lingering into the 20th in a more minor way ), the dominant military paradigm was adminstration by settled urban elites and military recruitment from Turkic ( sometimes Kurdish and Arab as well, but usually in subsidiary roles as part of larger Turkoman confederacies ) pastoralists. As the need to maintain oneself in power can trump even the demand for greater agricultural revenue, the tribal pastoralists were often just too useful to weaken or too powerful to challenge ( though they were certainly occasional exceptions ). Hence tribal politics blended with, merged with and often trumped urban politics.

Tribes were just vastly more useful as political units in the ME/NA than they were in Europe and as a ( very unfortunate ) consequence they lingered.*

However SimonX’s point about the inadequacy of modern Arab governments is also a good point - such weaknesses only encourage existing extra-governmental authorities, whether they be religious ( taking up the slack in many countries by providing charitable societies and free education ) or tribal. And of course traditional tribalism of a sort did linger into the modern era in Europe - the Highland Clearances finally broke it in Scotland and arguably it still holds some force in places like northern Albania ( though the former communist regime struggled mightily to break up the clan power-structure which was regarded as a threat ).

Nationalism is certainly to be found in the ME/NA. In countries that are more rooted historically ( Egypt being a prime example ) or defined themselves by a sort of national revolutionary struggle ( like Algeria ) it can be a quite potent ideology. It’s just that nationalism in many cases continues to share the stage with tribal loyalties to varying degrees. In Egypt tribalism has never been a potent force - tribal sheiks were to be found among the Bedouin immigrants on the desert verges, but the masses of Egyptian peasantry ( fellahin, both Muslim and Copt ) were never really organized into larger tribal formations. By contrast in Morocco, another country with a more or less well-rooted historical/geographical reality, tribal identification, particularly in the rugged Atlas and Rif mountains, is far more widespread and important.

Iraq is probably the most artificial country in the ME/NA. Now ater 50+ years Iraqi nationalism certainly exists at some level - during the Iran-Iraq War a lot of observers were surprised at SH’s success in rallying at least the non-Kurdish parts of the population. But in many ways it seems to have been ( and continues to be ) more a feature of the ideological intelligentsia ( i.e. in Iraq exactly some of the Ba’athist appartchiks that are now considered part of the problem, though in later years as the Ba’ath became SH’s personal demesne, it was increasingly “tribal” itself ) and only weakly held by the larger populace. Your average Iraqi might take pride in an Iraqi national success ( international soccer victory or some such ), but even in the cities economic and political power continues to be exercised to some significant extent through tribal patronage. Much of the ‘Sadrist’ appeal stems from the late Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr’s controversial arguments that extended certain types of what had been traditionally religious authority to tribal sheikhs.

As to how to solve it? Dunno. How do you re-engineer a society to specification? Is it even possible in the modern world without risky and morally compromised draconian measures?

The first Pahlavi Shah in particular waged a ferocious campaign to break the power and independence of tribal pastorialists in Iran with some success. But his tactics weren’t exactly gentle and he had rather a different situation in which a sort of Persian nationalism was already well-established ( ancient in fact ) and that in 20th century Iran, tribalism per se was ( and is ) for the most part really only a dominant feature of rural nomads, not the majority of the population ( though the strong family loyalty of the traditional elite amounted almost to a sort of tribal system as well, with the same web of family patronage and nepotism ).

I imagine only time will tell. Emergent nationalism, potentially nasty as it is in other ways, can help trump tribal identification over time. Education and western values around individualism ( whether good or bad ) will also do so. Religion is a great over-arching theme - just ask the mullahs in Iran :). But all of those can continue to coexist nicely with a neo-tribal social system. A modernized economy is probably a bit more actively antithetical to tribalism - nepotism of the sort that is built into tribal patronage systems ( and even at times the reluctance to buck the crowd that is built into consensus-seeking social systems ) can occasionally be a great hindrance to economic progress. But so far economies in the ME/NA ( if we can anthropomorphize such for a minute ) are losing that fight. Then again the crap nature of the governments implementing them ( with their own forms of corruption, some tribal, some not ) may have a lot to do with that.

  • Tamerlane

Sort of. It is tribal, economic ( the area is in bad shape from years of drought and the struggle is on for scarce resources ), social ( pastoralist vs. agriculturalist ), and ethnic ( Arab vs. non-Arab ). Ethnicity here being defined by primary language.

As someone pointed out to me awhile ago, probably racial isn’t quite the right word for that last aspect of this conflict, at least not in American terms. It isn’t an issue of appearance as it would be in the U.S. - both Arabs and non-Arabs in Sudan are pretty similar looking. More an issue of Arab supremacism in the sense of perceived superiority of Arab culture.

I remain ambivalent. I can make a good argument for peacekeepers, but not a great one for government removal, because I don’t know what you would replace it with.

It isn’t a simple issue of seperating Sudan into two countries ( as I see some posters repeatedly claiming ), north and south. At least not right now. There isn’t any fighting in the south at the moment - the two areas are currently in a truce and a referendum on seperation is already scheduled for a few years from now and is not yet derailed ( though I won’t be shocked if that ends up happening ). The fighting is in the west and the largest rebel groups don’t want a seperate country, far as I can tell ( a smaller one does ). And I’m not sure just putting the “rebels” in power would stabilize the country ( a minority government? ).

So I’m undecided on the issue.

  • Tamerlane

They don’t look the same. We have Arabs going after blacks in that situation, right? And even if they did look alike, that’s not a criterion for tribal warfare. Israelis and Palestinians look alike (at least to me) and no one calls their fighting a “tribal tiff”.

Which leads me to believe that the term “tribe” is often used inappropriately, to describe people who we don’t care about and/or don’t understand. The genocide in Rwanda, for instance, was not a result of tribal fighting. It was a situation between distinct ethnic groups.

I have before :). Though admittedly using “tribe” partly ( but not entirely )as a euphemism.

  • Tamerlane