The 21st Century Phenomenon



All over the Middle East and in large parts of the Muslim worlds tribal loyalty comes first to any other allegiance such as the state or even the Islam itself.  Politic is mainly a family business and the political parties – a family estate.

Iraq of Sadam Hussein’s regime was based on Sadam Hussein’s family, who manned the most sensitive positions, Sadam Hussein’s tribe who manned other senior positions and Sadam Hussein’s region people who manned the security apparatus and the presidential guard. The situation is just the same in Syria or Yemen. Saudi Arabia is ruled and practically owned by one happy family of 5,000 Princes and any position in the country depends on connection and relation with the Iben Saud ruling family. So is the political infrastructure of the Gulf Emirates.

In Lebanon all the parties are, in fact, a family political estate where son is succeeding his father as the head of the party. Even in Egypt, where the phenomena of tribal infrastructure in politics is relatively weaker and the loyalty to Egypt as a state come very often first to tribal allegiances, it is Jamal Moubarak, the son of the president Hosni Mubarak who is the obvious political figure to succeed his father as the Egyptian president.

Benazir Bhutto succeeded her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the leader of the PPP – Pakistan Popular Party. After Bhutto assassination, on 12/27/2007, it was her son, age only 17, who was officially pronounced the Party leader, and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, as the real acting party leader to emphasize that, eventually, the PPP and Bhutto family are the same.

The mentality of “tribe first”, deeply rooted in large parts of the Islamic society, is a major obstacle to a genuine democracy but in the short term of the “War on Terror” has its own advantages.

The success of the USA to dramatically decrease the violence in Iraq and to contain Al Qaeda threat was largely based on alliances with tribesmen and legitimating about 130 tribesmen Militias, the so called “Awakening Councils” (in Arabic al-Sawaha). The Awakening Councils in their very existence contradict Iraq nationality, sovereignty and the rule of law but were very efficient in encountering Al Qaeda, especially when it served the narrow tribal interests in terms of money, influence and honor of their sheikhs. As mentioned above – tribe comes first.

There is growing signs that Pakistan is trying to implement the same method in its struggle to contain the Pashtu tribes and Tehrik-e-Taleban. The Pashtu tribes are fighting each other for generations and tribal conflicts and violence are a way of life. Recently the Pakistani regime began to form alliances with local tribes, who historically are in conflict with those supporting the Taliban, in order to form tribal based anti Taliban militias, known as ‘Ashkar’ (coming from the Arabic word – soldiers). Similar to the situation in Iraq the Ashkar leaders became the prime targets for Islamic militancy such as the last Orkazai suicide attack from 10/10/2008 (see – Orakzai 10.10.08 ). 

Already in the Pakistani Army Khyber operation against pro-Taliban tribes, led by Baitullah Mehsude, the Bhittani tribe sided with the government and Bhittani Militiamen were stopping Baitullah Mehsud’s vehicles passing through their territory. Later Baitullah Mehsude took his revenge by abducting and killing over 20 Bhittani Militiamen (see – Jandola 06.23.08 ).

Using local tribesmen against Islamic militants is very efficient in short run but the alliances with tribesmen are extremely unstable since they have the habit to frequently change sides and are a long term danger to the coherence, integrity, sovereignty, the prospect of democracy and the rule of law of their own countries.


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