Professor Dawn Chatty was interviewed recently about Syria’s Bedouin tribes for ‘Syria in Crisis’, part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The role of these communities in the Syrian conflict is perhaps one of the most understudied aspects of the current crisis.
Professor Chatty outlines the history of Syria’s Bedouin communities before discussing the current situation for Bedouins in Syria and their role in the conflict. This role is not straightforward: “You have some tribes that are with the government and some that are with the opposition. Some government officials are recruited on the basis of their tribal support. The current minister of defense, General Fahd Jassim al-Freij, is a member of the Hadidiyin from the Hama region… On the other hand, I think much of the early armed uprising in Daraa, Homs, Deir Ezzor, and other places was a result of local tribesmen seeking to protect their neighborhoods.”
There are also splits within tribes “because the government has for so long pitted different lineages against each other. Now you have rival groups within the same tribes that have chosen different sides in the uprising.”
However, Professor Chatty concludes that today, the tribal leaders have largely retreated from overt opposition politics, although they remain important in their communities at the local level. They may even transpire to be “the glue to keep Syria together, when the day finally comes that Bashar al-Assad realizes he must sit down to negotiate.”