Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

“Tribe” in Extremists’ Strategies | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A diverse mix of tribal groups fighting for their own interests
have coalesced under government and military alliances [Reuters]

As a unit, and a stable social identity that gathers its members, the tribe has overtook its social, economic, and collaborative spaces toward a more political and public status over history.

Many observers stress on the importance of the role that tribes play in combating terrorism in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and everywhere.

The tribe has always maintained its position as a symbolic and cultural authority and an extended unified ethnic connection.

Therefore, it has been a target for authority’s aspirants and different extremist groups, which attempt to penetrate these tribes and change their sheikhdom’s structure, by supporting symbol figures against other powerful, opposing figures in the tribe.

Some said that the Libyan tribes’ opposition to the Gaddafi’s regime and their revolution against it was the main reason behind its fall.

The tribes enjoy a significant influence due to their population’s weight in many Arabic countries, and particularly in the areas of conflicts. Tribes’ members in Syria count 24.504 million people, while in Iraq, tribes represent the biggest share of its population and contributed in the state’s establishment till the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2011.

Based on the above-mentioned information, terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda seek to invest in these tribes by buying support and oppressing opposition.

The same strategy was adopted by previous regimes like the “Baath” and revolutionary systems, which dismantled a number of massive tribes and their official leaderships in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt in the fifties.

Yet, the recruitment tool differs between the two strategies, as extremist groups recruit by using ideological tools of the oppressive organizations. Regarding the importance of the tribe, some countries tried to recruit the tribe in the conflict and combat of terrorism. Many countries have established councils and authority concerned in the tribes’ affairs like in Egypt, Libya, and Iraq, where Al-Maliki’s regime dismantled it through the sectarian practices of the Popular Crowd.

We disagree with those who say that ISIS and al-Qaeda coped with tribes under different strategies, because both organizations have paid remarkable concern in this influential social unit.

In Yemen, on 13 June 2010, tribal men allied with al-Qaeda participated in the explosion of an oil pipeline between Ma’rib and the Red Sea’s coast, which heavily damaged the oil industry at that time.

Abu Baker Naji, one of ISIS’s role model, adopts the same view on the importance of the tribe, and sees that the tribes’ concepts and basis should be dismantled, so the organization can control the tribe or use its concepts for its own benefits.

On another hand, al-Qaeda was always keen to take advantage of the oppression, the economic and structural marginalization, or sectarian discrimination that faces these tribes in recruiting their young people, as happened in Sinai, Egypt or in the Sunni provinces of Iraq.

While ISIS has succeeded in penetrating Syria and Mosul in Iraq through his alliances and affinities with some local tribes, yet it was cautious when dealing with them, to avoid al-Qaeda’s bad experience in this field, which led to the fall of its state.

ISIS has used oppression and intimidation with the opposing tribes. It killed 500 people from the Bou Nemer clan in Anbar in 2014, and launched campaigns against Al-Shaitat tribe in Syria, and raided their homes in October of the same year. It also implemented mass executions against Libyan tribes in Sirt in August 2015.

Concerning the tribal issue, ISIS seems to be way more doubtful than al-Qaeda, as its expansion project is more ambitious. It also neglected the setting of any theories in this issue, and went far in using violence and public slaughter to attract supporters and to intimidate opposing parties, which marginalized values of flexibility and dialogue in the intellect of this organization toward the other, who differs with them in the political or social view.