syrian tribes

i knew if i looked long and hard enough, i’d find some tribes in syria.

actually, i didn’t look at all, but instead stumbled across this yesterday in Foreign Affairs:

“Despite popular notions of a rich, privileged Alawite class dominating Syria, the country’s current regime provides little tangible benefit to most Alawite citizens. Rural Alawites have struggled as a result of cuts in fuel subsidies and new laws restricting the sale of tobacco — their primary crop for centuries. Indeed, since the provision of basic services by the first Assad in the 1970s and 1980s, most Alawite villages — with the exception of Qardaha, the home of Assad’s tribe, the Kalbiyya — have developed little. Donkeys remain a common form of transport for many, and motor vehicles are scarce, with dilapidated minibuses offering the only way to commute to the cities for work.”

ah ha! now we’re getting somewhere. assad comes from a particular alawite tribe — the kalbiyya — and — surprise, surprise! — out of all the alawites, they have benefitted the most from the assad regime(s). i’ll betcha that they have benefitted the most out of everybody in syria, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

from the qardaha entry on wikipedia:

“During the reign of Hafez al-Assad 1970-2000 the government poured massive investments into Qardaha, Lattakia and the surrounding region. Today, this is evident already before entering Qardaha, as the broad Syrian coastal highway makes an inexplicable pass into the mountains just to reach Qardaha. Qardaha has a lot of luxurious villas…. People of the Qardaha are said to be descent of Banu Kalb tribe, them and all of the Alawite mountains are called by other Syrians ‘The Germans’ because of their looks.”

there are four alawi tribes or tribal confederations in syria: the kalbiyya, the khayatin, the haddadin, and the matawira.

here’s what happened when and after papa assad took power — from Minorities and the State in the Arab World [pgs. 135-37]:

“After Asad seized power in Syria and became the de factor leading figure in the ‘Alawi community, he turned his attention to strengthening his grip on this community. His first step was to bolster his position within his family and tribe. It is as a result of this effort that the core of Asad’s regime has been composed of members of the Kalbiyya tribe, headed by members of the Asad family: his brother Rif’at and Jamil (until the mid-1980s), his son Basil, and since his death, Bashshar and Mahir. Alongside them in the highest echelons of the regime are members of the Makhluf family, the largest and most prominent in the area of Asad’s birth. Asad is married to Anisa Makhluf, whose cousin, ‘Adnan Makhluf, was the commander for many years of the Republican Guard, the elite force responsible for the regime’s security.”

so bashar is both an asad AND a makhluf. that’s gotta be pretty good.

Asad’s [that’s papa asad remember] second step in consolidating his hold on the ‘Alawi community was to arrange a system of alliances among its families, tribes, and clans by means of marriage and the appointment of family and tribal representatives to important posts in the regime. For instance, Asad appointed members of leading families from other tribes to key positions: ‘Ali Duba, whose family comes from the Matawira/Numilatiyya tribe, was appointed head of the Military Security Department; and ‘Ali Haydar, from the Haddadin tribe, was appointed commander of the Special Forces. There are also strategic marriages between the Asads and those prominent families of the ‘Alawi community whoe members command crucial posts in the army, including the match of Rif’at Asad’s daughter with the son of the then Third Division commander Shafiq Fayyad (now commander of the Third Corps), in an attempt to cool passions aroused in the 1983-84 struggle over government succession.

Once he secured the allegiance of the ‘Alawi community, or at least the recognition by most of its members of his leadership, Asad turned it into the main prop of the regime. The ‘Alawis gradually gained sway over the army and internal security forces. Today, they fill most of the commanding positions in the elite units of the Syrian Army and supervise most organs of state security….”

and they still do.

“With the ‘Alawi community firmly behind him and its members serving as the engine of his regime, Asad directed his efforts to building bridges between ‘Alawis and others. The ‘Alawis are cognizant of their weaknesses; therefore, ‘Alawi officers have always sought partners along their road to power and today endeavor to broaden the base of support for their policies and ideology as much a possible. Other minority groups, principally the Druzes and Isma’ilis, are longtime confederates….

that makes sense since the common enemy of all three groups would be the sunni majority.

“The ‘Alawis, however, did not require Druzes and Isma’ilis as ruling partners, but rather as supporters and assistants, and when the non-‘Alawi members of the Military Committee attempted to preserve and fortify their standing in the mid-1960s, a power struggle ensued in which the non-‘Alawis were toppled.

“No less important was the coalition between ‘Alawis and rural Sunnis. Their understanding was originally based on a common interest in extirpating the old regime, in effect the entire old order in Syria, and in implementing a just distribution of power and resources. Provincial Sunni officers and politicians proved to be convenient and loyal confederates, as they rallied around the regime without reservation in its most trying hours….

Since the early 1990s, a new pact has been in effect — this time between the ‘Alawi officers and the urbanized Sunni economic elite, prompted by the ‘economic openness’ policy recently adopted by the regime. This is a symbiotic covenant between Sunnis, whose priority is political stability as a means of achieving economic stability, and ‘Alawis, who deliver political stability in exchange for recognition of the regime’s political legitimacy from the erstwhile foes of Ba’th hegemony and ‘Alawi power.”

this must explain why it seems to be rural and “backward” areas, like homs (hey, damascus it ain’t!), that are being beaten up today. urban sunni families (tribes — i’m sure they’re there!) are backing bashar and the alawis against the (somewhat unrelated to them) rural sunni families. this has GOT to be an awfully shaky alliance, though [pg. 138]:

“[T]he Sunni majority still regards the ‘Alawis as socially inferior. While recognizing the ‘Alawis’ political and military puissance and appreciating the economic strides they have made, the average Sunni still harbors feelings of condescension and contempt toward them. There is much evidence of an abiding Sunni unwillingness to accept ‘Alawi integration into Syrian society. Intermarriage between the two communities, for example, is rare.”

the feelings are probably mutual.

how long will any sunnis back the alawis? there’s got to be a limit … maybe it’s already been met and urban sunnis are abandoning the alawis. i don’t really know. i don’t follow the goings on in syria closely enough to know.

steve sailer was recently annoyed at the msm for failing to explain the racial differences between the players in the mali unrest. i found myself raising my voice to a cnn anchor over easter during a report from turkey in which they were telling all us viewers about the streams of “syrian” refugees fleeing from syria to turkey. i was figuring to myself that these were probably syrian turks — makes sense to flee to turkey if you’re a syrian turk i thought — and i was wondering if bashar’s regime was beating up on the syrian turks (and why). as the cnn cameraman panned around the refugee camp, i could see that the women there were dressed head-to-toe in niqabs, so then i figured they must be syrian bedouins — which made me wonder if bashar’s regime was beating up on the syrian bedouins (and why).

which all made me very annoyed at cnn/the msm for being SOOOO uninformative! how can anybody getting their info from the msm expect to know what the h*ll is going on out there?! and most people don’t know what the h*ll’s going on out there. (and prolly most people don’t care to.)

p.s. – this looks like all you’d ever want to know about the bashar regime. here’s a nifty graphic from that report [pg. 356]:

previously: syria

(note: comments do not require an email. the assads.)


  1. I don’t suppose you’ve been able to find a complete breakdown of the whole country by clan and tribe?


  2. @luke – “I don’t suppose you’ve been able to find a complete breakdown of the whole country by clan and tribe?”

    nope. i poked around on the innerwebs last night but came up empty-handed. dr*t.

    but they’re there, gosh-durnit! — the sunni muslim tribes (or clans or whatever you want to call them), anyway.


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