Political role of Syrian Clans’ Leaders and its risks

By: A group of Researchers

Syria is currently going through eminent historical changes that are going to re-design its present and future after the Revolution. The successive changes and their effects urge us to analyze the situation in Syria based on the peculiarity of the Syrian society with its tribal component by considering the status of tribal leaders and their attitudes towards what is happening in Syria. For a better understanding, we also need to consider the role they have played throughout history and how they have been dealing with the current events and developments. Away from ready-made readings that are inspired by the media and employed for different agendas during the ongoing conflict, this study concentrates on the concept of tribal leadership in accordance with the tribal structure and the operational effectiveness of these tribal leaders and their influence outside the local framework. This started with the Othman and French occupations, the colonization era, and up to the so-called “The national era”, This study dwells on clans’ real role in the Syrian Revolution to identify their responsibilities.    

In this context, it is inevitable to consider the relationship between the state and tribe. This relationship is always on the move and under the effect of changes prompted by politicians and heads of tribes. The political role of tribal leaders is not a reflection of the strategic relationship between tribe and the state as an institution. Rather, it is a reflection of tactical relationships between these two institutions. Therefore, political roles of tribal leaders are not always similar to each other, and political efficiency differs from one to another.

Therefore, this study tries to investigate the tribal change processes throughout a long history. Such history is to be scientifically divided depending on a scientific strategy for using resources and references to identify the role of Syrian clans’ leaders, their attitudes and their relationship with the strong central government, and their relationship with non-state entities. This will help us understand this wide-spread social composition as parties to the conflict in Syria are competing to win the favor of as many tribal leaders as possible according to the agenda of each party. Assad’s Regime is no exception as it has always played on the tribal factor ever since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution. This has been manifested by repeated Tribes Conferences, latest of which is the Atheria Conference. Autonomous Administration in the Eastern Euphrates Area, represented by PYD, has held many Tribal conferences. However, Turkey has been most interested in sponsoring such conferences ever since 2012. Turkey is still supporting Syrian clans whether on its land or inside Syria like Ezzaz Conference, which has been recently held in the northern countryside of Aleppo. These examples refer to the importance of tribal dimension in the formulation of future of Syrian cosmopolitan society.     

The concept of tribal leadership

A Syrian clan is usually composed of many extended families that are divided into divisions and subdivisions which are connected with blood link like the case of Anezah Clan. A clan can also be composed of many allied tribes like Ekaidat Clan. A clan usually inhibits a specific territory, and people of the clan feel some kind of solidarity and unity based on preliminary passions. Anyway, it could be a large group of people who have the same dialect and special social relationships, one coherent cultural heritage that leads to a social unity. Members of a clan consider these connections as some kind of political independence.    

This concept of the clan and other similar concepts have been a controversial issue for sociologists. Tribe is an organic composition based on the will to co-exist throughout successive generations. With the process of time, some kind of institutions appeared to organize everyday life of the tribe in a way that ensure safety and security for all members of the tribe and preservation of their properties. As a result of consensus among components of the tribe, certain conventions are usually agreed on. On top of the hierarchy of the tribe, tribal leadership (Mashiakha) comes. Al Jabery defines a tribe by saying: “It is a social, psychological, conscious and unconscious link that connects all members of the tribe. It is based on kinship. This connection usually gets stronger in case of danger that threats members of the tribe whether individually or collectively.”   

Each tribe is usually led by a leader, known as “Sheikh”. Albert Hawrani wrote: “Leadership of the tribe is hierarchical with the Sheikh on top of the organogram. The power of the Sheikh is not compulsory as members of the tribe willingly obey his orders without any compulsion. This obedience is based on agreed convention, and this obedience gets stronger in crisis and wartime.”.

In his book: “Clans of Levant”, Ahmad Wasfi Zakarya wrote: “Heads of tribes used to be nominated by the French military ruler of Syria, Henri Joseph Eugène Gouraud at the time of French colonization of Syria, or later in the independence time by the Minister of Interior.
Ali Al Wardi quotes Iben Khaldoun’s definition of Sheikh of the tribe: “Followed, but not a suppressor. He gets his authority from the solidarity of members of the tribe, and their respect to him. He doesn’t have real power or guards by which he can impose his power on the tribe.”.   

A tribe is usually led by the strongest and most popular male. He is in charge of negotiations with other tribes’ leaders as well as representing the tribe in its relationship with the central government. Usually heads of divisions of the tribe compete to win recognition by the state and other influential entities. The leader of a tribe is morally responsible for the tribe. His authority might get stronger or weaker depending on his sets of behavior. If he is mean or greedy, for example, he might lose the support of members of the tribe, and if he is generous and sharp-minded, he will win the support of all members of the tribe.

Role of clans’ Leaders at the Time of the Othman Era

Reciprocal Relationship

When the Abbasi Empire was collapsing, Arabic Clans succeeded in establishing a state on their own just before the Saljuki – Turkish invasion. Their state continued ruling Syria for decades and some of its rule continued for centuries in some areas. Al Bu Resha tribe and leaders of Al Mawali ruled the area between Aleppo and Khabur, and from Jak Berreh to Iraqi border. Annah was the capital. As they controlled trade roads from Aleppo to other neighboring areas, they had a special status among other clans during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Al Mawali Clan witnessed a sudden prosperity under the leadership of Al Bu Resha sheikhs which was established by Hamad Abu Na’eer. The Othman Sultanate recognized his state, and leader of Al Bu Reshah was nominated as a ruler of Sanjaki, Deir Al Rahbi, Salamia, Annah and Haditha. He was granted an annual payment. The Othman authorities were in need for Leaders of Al Bu Reshah, especially in Iraq as the threat of repeated revolutions was always a big concern. This is on the one hand. On the other hand,

They were badly needed for securing roads of pilgrims and trade. Despite the great services they provided to the Othman Sultanate, the Othman Authorities disrespected Al Bu Resha Leaders. Nomination and dismissal of Leaders of Al Bu Resha was no longer an important issue for the Othman Sultanate. Othman Authorities prepared a campaign against Al Bu Resha, but the campaign was delayed because of the war against the Persians in 1723. The Othman Authorities limited their control to the city centers; therefore, Al Bu Reshah Sheikhs maintained their control of vast areas inside Syria which enabled them to control roads of trade and pilgrimage ever since the 17th century. Ever since the rule of Sultan Murrad III – 1001 AD, they became a frightening power for Bashas of Dyar Baker, Aleppo and Baghdad as Stephen Hemsley Longrigg mentions. Sultan Murrad pledged to pay them 6000 Dukes and to recognize their inheritance rule. This led to a bloody conflict with Al Bu Resha, and so many of them were executed. 

During the second half of the 18th century, the power of Al Bu Resha was crushed by clans coming from the Arabian Peninsula, mainly Ea’nezzah Clan, which moved them away from the Euphrates and they were stuffed to the Eastern Euphrates Area. Al Bu Reshah withdrew to Al Salamya area. With the geographical repositioning of Syrian tribes, new political entities were formed and they fluctuated between alliances and conflicts. These political sidelining took the form of central authorities under the custody of the slouchy Othman Sultanate which provoked the conflict between Shumar and Ena’ezah. With the increasing of confrontation areas in Syria, they continued looting campaigns against each other during the second half of the 19th century. The conflict was not limited to these two clans, other tribes were conflicting over domination. Most leaders of clans were affiliated with the Turkish Authorities. Tribal leaders who dominated the Syrian Badyah – Nomadic areas – in the 19th century, are Jada’an Ben Mehaid, Fares and his grandson Abdul Kareem Al Jarbah, Ahmad Bek Abu Reshah, Satam Al Sha’llan, Muhammed Ben Dukhay ben Sameer and Abdul Kareem Al Mulhem. All of them either killed each other or were executed by the Turkish Authorities.

At the end of the Othman era, leaders of tribes changed into land owners as Sultan Abdul Hameed granted them villages and real estates. The Othman Authorities attracted them to its side through assigning them high ranks and titles, granted them   loans.

Leaders of the Arabic tribes were allying with the Othman Empire which employed them as a defense frontline during the World War I. When Turkey was resurrected by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, Arabic Nationalism was getting momentum among Arabs. This was embodied by people’s loyalty to King Faisal Government which was established in Damascus. Allegiance of Leaders of clans was divided between the French and the Turks. The Eastern Area was ambiguous following Sykes Picot Accords in 1916 which identified the French and British interests in the region. Ramadan Basha Al Shallash, an officer and leader of Al Ekaidat tribe (Al Bu Saraya Clan) succeeded in unifying tribes in the Euphrates area and mobilized them for a joint military action against the British. He managed to recapture Deir Ezzour in December 1919. The French, on the other hand, faced a valiant resistance in the Euphrates Area. Turks and Arab Nationalists cooperated their efforts around Deir Ezzour. Leaders of tribes were divided between the two parties to the conflict. Ibraheem Basha Al Melli, leader of Melliah tribe allied with the French, whereas Ekaidat, under the leadership of Al Hafel and Al Shallash sided with the Turks and the Arabs. Al Fada’an Tribe under the leadership of Hajem and Mujhem Ben Muhaid fought with both conflicting sides. With the advent of Ankara Treaty in 1921, the Turks withdrew from Euphrates area to Baghdad railway which became the northern border of the French mandate area.

Leaders of clans contributed to border lining according to Sykes Picot Accords between Syria and its neighboring countries through extradition, displacement and resettlement.

Role of clans’ Leaders at the time of the French Mandate

Utility partnership

Syria remained under the French colonization between 1920 and 1946. During their rule of the country, the French were keen on wining satisfaction of clans for two reasons:

  • Their contribution to Arab Nationalistic Revolutions between 1925 and 1927;
  • Their fervent conflicts which made it difficult for the French to establish some kind of state in the country.

At that time Syrian clans were dominating large areas of Syria. Consequently, the concept of clan was resurrected through making Clans’ Law. The French tried to win clans by granting them privileges. 

France worked hard to fragment the biggest clans and split large branches of the mother clan, and provided financial and military support. As a result, many conflicts started in the 1920s between Al Hadedyeen, Al Mawali, Shumar and Al Mulya, Al Ekaidat and Enezah which was supported by the French. Big battles caused the death hundreds.

Just like any occupying force, the French colonizers followed the rule: “Divide and rule” as a systematic policy to disperse leaders of clans. The French sent teams of European anthropologists and sociologists to study Arab clans. Researchers like Lady Anne Blent, Von Oppenheim, Lawrence, the British, Burkhart and others were sent to do studies on the heritage of these clans. They presented the results of their researches to their governments which worked hard on fragment these clans depending on recalling outdated disputes and historical controversies. Some clans’ leaders responded and allied with the French to reinforce their authority within their tribes. Some other leaders of clans fought against the French colonizers. Leaders of Al Mawali Al Ekaidat and Shumar struggled against the French who, in turn, mobilized Leaders of Al Hadeedya to fight Al Mawali. This conflict inherited hostility between the two conflicting clans, and this hostility still has its bad consequences in the area up till today.       

Encouraged by the French and the British, clans continued their bloody conflicts. Clans settled on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi borders fought each other in 1933. Saddam Al Rawllah, Fada’an and Al Saba’ah also fought each other in that same year. Tens of people were killed and more were injured. In 1941, Saddam Al Fada’an and Al Wledah were also indulged in conflict.  

Following years of fight, parties to the conflicts were exhausted. Then the French claimed neutrality and acted the role of an arbitrator and guarantor of peace. They showed their interest in protecting each clan from other invading ones. The French forced heads of clans to sign a reconciliation agreement on 18th of June 1934. This agreement aimed at:

  • Prevention of invasion, maintaining stability for each clan. Heads of tribes were authorized the right to issue judgements and the French authority would respect those judgements that are accordant with the tribal traditions and conventions. The French Local Authority recognized the verdicts of tribal leaders.
  • The Mandate Government recognized the tribal entities within geographical domains like the case of Shumar in Iraq, Shumar at the border and that of Deir Ezour. This was intended to reinforce the political borders proposed by Sykes Picot Accords.  

The French Government paved the way for rapprochement with heads of clans by giving them fertile lands in return for recognition of the French mandate. The Syrian Jazeera area is the most fertile land of the country. Leaders of clans divided these lands among themselves under the supervision of the French colonizers, who managed to mobilize these leaders for the implementation if French strategy related to protection of trade roads and oil pipelines. Ghlub Basha was assigned as the supervisor of Clans’ affairs. Heads of clans were given monthly salaries. These salaries, which mounted up to 25,000 Sterling Pound, were decided by the French Higher Commission in 1938. Each tribal leader was given a different salary according to the importance of his tribe. The following table shows payments to heads of clans as per decided by the French Government in 1935.     

Name of the tribal LeaderName of the tribe Salary in Sterling Pound
Noury Al Sha’lanAl Rawlah3415 SP
Muhjem Ben MehaidAl Fada’an3305 SP
Daham Al Hadi Al JarbaSumar Al Kharsa2300 SP
Muzher Ben Muhsen Al JarbaSumar Al Zour2300 SP
Fawaz Al Sha’lanAl Rawlah2049 SP
Nawaf Al SalehAl Hadedeen1534 SP
Abdul Aziz Al Ka’isheeshFada’an Al Kharsa1365 SP
Rakan Ben MurshedAl Saba’a Al Betainat1200 SP
Trad Al MulhemAl Hasnah800 SP
Bajas Ben HudaibAl Saba’512 SP
Ali Al RashedAl Bu Khamees512 SP
Ali Al ShayshSouthern Mawali342 SP
Fares Al AyourNorthern Mawali342 SP

In addition to these salaries, leaders of Semi-nomadic communities were allotted imbursements as follows:

Talal Al Abdul RahmanTai2380 SP
Haji AghaHawarket Al Akrad1983 SP
Jameel Ben Musalam BashaAl Jubour661 SP

With the birth of the new Syrian State, none of the successive governments could replace loyalty to the clan by loyalty to the nation. The concept of nation was so strange to leaders of clans and their affiliates. When Syrian modern cities like Hasaka, Qamishli, Rakkah and Deir Ezour were established with their villages and towns, tribes and their leaders creeped to these cities. Some leaders of clans went further to live in Damascus and Aleppo. Al Sha’lan, Head of Al Rawlah tribe settled in Damascus and the area was named after him, Al Sha’lan.  

Many heads of tribes and clans no longer cared for their tribes. Some of them became bourgeoises, and the relationship between members of a tribe and their tribe leader became a utilitarian one. Heads of clans and tribes became very rich, and many of them moved to the Gulf States in 1970s. Only their family members remained with them.

Heads of clans during the national era (domestication and investment)

Following the independence, Syria was ruled by three main powers i.e. the military, bourgeoises and heads of clans. These three powers had joint interests before the military got stronger and overthrew other powers. As the military elite didn’t have the legitimacy to rule, they tried to attract and win the favor of heads of clans by using money and positions. The parliament was nearly dominated by tribal figures.

Soon after the termination of partnership between the military elite and heads of clans, the status of heads of clans deminished after the independence in 1946. Their quota in the parliament decreased from nine members to six with the adoption of 1950 Constitution. Four of these six seats in the Parliament were dedicated to specific clans; two for clans of Aleppo like Al Mawali and Al Hadedeen represented by Al Shayesh Ben Abdul Kareem and Nawaf Al Saleh. One seat for Al Jarba tribe in Al Jazeera eastern area and one seat for Thamer Al Mulhem, Head of Al Hasnah Tribe.

When Egypt and Syria were united in one country (1958 – 1961) under the leadership of Jamal Abdul Naser, he obliterated the “Tribes’ Law” by virtue of law No, 166 issued on 28th of September 1958. Tribes privileges went with the wind. They were only left some seats in the Nation’s Council. When Al Ba’ath Party came to power and nationalized private land properties, heads of tribe lost their real estates which were confiscated by virtue of the new law.

Dissatisfaction and abhorrence by heads of tribes increased with increasing penetration of the military institution into administration and the field following successive military coups that blew up Syria between 1949 and 1970. Only between 1954 and 1958 coups were suspended. Between 1961 and 1963, which is a period of separation between Syria and Egypt, Syria did not witness military coups. As a result of this political and military unrest, many heads of tribes were mere tools in the hands of Army leaders. Al Ba’ath Party confiscated the properties of heads of clans during the 1950s and the 1960s. Tribes Associations were dismantled. Heads of clans who rejected the nationalization of property laws felt humiliated as military officials seized their seized factories and lands under the pretext of this law. No confrontation was spotted, so many heads of clans left the country.   

The majority of tribes’ leaders were subordinates of military officials. They were contented with little privileges given to them like membership of the Nation’s Council during the unity between Syria and Egypt, or the National Council following the 8th March coup in 1963, and later in the People’s Assembly at the time of Hafez Assad.   

During that period, the policy of ruling army generals, the national structure was wrecked through the excessive use of force against all social classes for the sake of stabilizing their rule. Therefore, there was no national consensus on one national military figure to rule the country because all those who came to power humiliated recognized heads of clans, and imposed other heads for clans who were for the concept of permanent ruler. President of the country was more of grand head of a big clan imposed by force.  

The competition between Heads of Clans and Hafez Assad over social representation, and the emergence of the concept of “permanent leader”

During their investigation of the Syrian case, most researchers, with different origins, have stopped at minor details that illustrate the conflict between Hafez Assad and all components of the Syrian People. They didn’t go into deeper details due to a state of illusion, the sensitivity of discussing critical sectarianism and tribal issues that might lead to bad social consequences.    

Hafez Assad overthrew his fellow, Salah Jedeed, in 1970 claiming that it was a corrective movement, but deep inside himself he was planning for a sectarian political regime based on utilizing his sect for his ascendancy objectives.

The rule of Hafez Assad was full of contrasting concepts of dealing with tribal leaders who are the most outstanding rival of Hafez Assad over social representation. This duality of Hafez Assad was a characteristic of his totalitarian rule of the country. It seems that it was a task he was assigned to destroy the social structure of Syria. This was embodied in his regional policies and practices prior to his national ones. He targeted political and social figures in both Syria and Lebanon through a wave of assassinations that dominated the scene in the 1970s.

The pragmatic practices of social and political leaders, including tribal ones, pushed them to look for mutual interests with Hafez Assad as an exit for the stalemate that was founded by Hafez Assad himself. Those tribal leaders tried to maintain their organic structure, continuity, progression and the least social and political status.

In a historical precedent that is very similar to what is happening in Syria nowadays, heads of tribes played a compulsory or voluntary role in stabilizing the rule of Hafez Assad when he was exposed to political shocks in the 1980s. He utilized the for blocking the nomadic areas neighboring Iraq to anticipate any delivery of weapons to the opposition. When he mobilized tribal leaders, Hafez Assad was fully aware that they didn’t have freedom, which is an instinctive base for any productive efforts except for the damage that was caused to the image as tribal leaders were scorned by members of their tribes for their acceptance of that functional role assigned by Hafez Assad.   

These perceptions enabled Hafez Assad to penetrate the Syrian social structure, change its outlooks and reconstruct it all over again. Therefore, he controlled power centers, and limited his management of tribes on two levels.

First, the formal ideological discourse described all traditional components of the Syrian society, including tribal and religious leaders, as backward and retardation powers, and that they should be uprooted in order not to impair prosperity and development. He utilized such discourse to sideline tribal and national leaders and expel them from political efficiency.   

Second, He invested these tribal leaders and their tribal tendencies for winning their loyalty and reinforce his intelligence legitimacy. He did that with the help of those looking for legitimacy for themselves. He and tribal leaders exchanged legitimacy by awarding these leaders some privileges in return for pledging ultimate loyalty to Hafez Assad.   

Assad Regime was doing exactly the opposite of what it used to say. He didn’t boycott tribe as much as he employed them. This explains disloyalty of tribe leaders with the Syrian Revolution, and they pledged allegiance to whoever gave them some majesty. Tribal Leaders allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS in Al Rakkah and Deir Ezour is an example of their lust for stateliness.      

During decades of Assad’s rule, tribal leaders were domesticated through fragmentation of tribes with the aim or subjugating them to the Regime. This policy caused split of every single tribe, and some tribes nominated new leaders; so conflicts started over the original leader of the tribe. In some cases, they fight each other to death.

During Hafez Assad’s rule, no tribal figure was granted any position in the state or the ruling party. He expelled most army officers who belonged to well-known tribal dynasties. Some of those officers were chased until they fled the country. He kept some officers who belong to obscure families that are attached to tribes of Deir Ezour like Naji Jameel, Saeed Hamadi and Shubaibi who is originally from Iraq. They are all from Deir Ezzour.

Bashar Assad, who inherited power after his father died, did the same when he assigned Saeed Bekhtian who belongs to a small obscure tribe called “Al Amour” as Deputy Secretary General of Al Ba’ath Party. He also assigned Ryadh Hejab, from Al Sukhneh tribes, as a Prime Minister. Membership of People’s Assembly was a competition for other tribal figures, so Bashar Assad had to assign more than one member from one family to use them in time of need.

Heads of Clans and the Syrian Revolution, torn loyalties between the regime and opposition

Following the eruption of the Syrian Revolution on 15th March 2011, new political role players emerged among other social influential figures i.e. tribal political players. This was clear when some tribal leaders used their tribal influence to enhance tribal entities for political objectives. Some tribal figures converted their loyalty from the regime to the Revolution. Most important tribal leaders to mention are: Sheikh Abdul Illah Thamer Al Mulhem of Al Hasna Tribe, Sheikh Muhammed Al Sha’lan of Al Rullah Tribe, Sheikh Abdul Hameed Al Musarab, grandson of Mujwel Al Misarab of Al Saba’a Tribe, Sheikh Ameer Al Dnadal of Al Ekedat, Sheikh Ali Muzwed Al Jasem of Al Bashakem Tribe and Sheikh Nawaf Ragheb Al Basheer of Al Bakkarah before he changed his loyalty from the Revolution back to the Syrian Regime.  

The Revolution Coordination Councils named one of the Fridays of demonstration after “Tribes” on 10 June 2011 in an attempt to encourage leaders of tribes to have a positive attitude towards the Revolution. This step was intended to impose more pressure on Assad’s Regime. On that Friday, massive demonstrations got to the streets and demonstrators were confronted by security forces of the regime. About 30 peaceful demonstrators were killed by security forces. Yet, the result was not as satisfactory as expected as Pro-Assad leaders of tribes who attended clans’ conferences were larger in number than those who allied with the Revolution. Even the Clans’ Conference which was held in Istanbul was no more a political entity that joined the Syrian Opposition Coalition without any remarkable contribution to the Revolution.  

Upon investigating the current leaders of clans, we can see how disqualified they are. They are not up to the level of leading their clans. Therefore, Assad’s Regime, Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS and Syrian Democratic Forces SDF have utilized these leaders of clans for political and military exploitation of members of these tribes through bribing heads of clans to win them by these competing political entities. This cause a split in tribes to variant extents depending on political awareness. The change of loyalty by Nawaf Ragheb Al Basheer, head of Al Bakara clan and his fluctuation between the regime and the Revolution is a good example. People of his clan were fully aware of his hypocrisy and his lust for stateliness just like all other Heads of Clans who are affiliated with Assad’s Regime.

Attitudes of most heads of clans towards Assad’s Regime have been intended to be against pro-Assad heads of clans. They found a good chance to get rid of Assad’s Regime and his mercenaries. Heads of clans have always been utilized by Assad’s Regime for mobilizing their followers for certain occasions like presidential elections, presidential funerals and the handover of power from father to son, and finally against the Syrian Revolution. They were ordered to build the so-called “tents of the homeland” that have been used for expressing full allegiance to the regime.  

Because of their lust for stateliness and benefits, heads of tribes caused split in each tribe, and this led to the destruction of the social structure of tribes. Fanatic loyalty to heads of clans started to diminish.

Heads of clans have derived their legitimacy from the authority of Assad’s Regime in return for affiliation with the regime. Therefore, they expressed their abhorrence with the Syrian Revolution as they felt that the Revolution will deprive them from their gains. Some of them moved to Damascus to get protection by Assad’s Regime, and they recruited some of their tribe mates as body guards who have been known as Shabehas.    

Heads of clans cannot be considered to be naive due to their attitudes towards Assad’s Regime as they benefited from their previous experience with the Hafez Assad rule and the events that devastated Syria at that time. They thought that confronting the regime, without having deterrent forces, will lead to a great loss. In order to acclimatize with the new situation prompted by the regime, heads of tribes sent their sons to the army and police forces in pursuit of money and power. Thus, the regime won their favor simultaneously with the advent of the Revolution. Bashar Al Assad appointed Fahd Jasem Al Fraij who comes from Al Hadeedyen as Minister of Defense. He was promoted to First General. Juma’a Al Jasem, of the same tribe was in charge of artillery and rockets. Major General Jayez Rayan Al Musa who belong to Al Turky Tribe was the leader of division 20. These three high officers of the army committed war crimes. Al Mawali tribe was the most targeted one and got the lion’s share of destruction through the resurrection of previous old antagonism between the two tribes. This antagonism was prompted by Assad’s Regime.          

Some other leaders of tribes worked under the flag of the Revolution and established Tribes Union in Istanbul in 2012.

Regional conflict over utilization of heads of clans, episode of fragmentation and retreat

Undoubtedly, regional and international calculations lie behind the ongoing war in Syria. Regional and international powers have been exploiting this war to extend their dominance in the region. Contributions of countries involved in the war can’t be considered as a support to the Syrians, whether they are with the Regime or with the Revolution. Rather, this help is for the sake of maintaining their interests in Syria and the region. Many countries injected a lot of money to win the loyalty of clans’ leaders. The interpretation of this is that these countries want these leaders to serve the agenda and strategy of supporting countries when needed. Iran is on top of the list of investors. In this context, Turkey worked hard to unite as many tribes as possible in one entity in favor of the opposition. Such tribal entity can be relied on as a trustful ally. Therefore, Turkey sponsored Clans’ Conference in Istanbul on 10th and 11th of December 2017. Two other successive conferences were held, one in Aleppo and the other in Idlib. 

As regional dominance has become clearer on political, economic and military levels, and the investment of many social crucibles, the Iranian efforts are very obvious and seeking more gains. This ultimately reinforces Iran’s political, economic and military ambitions. Iran is competing with its rivals to attain as many of its objectives in Syria as possible through Heads of Clans and other social components. 


In general, the role of leaders of clans has not taken a final and specific shape as it takes a different form at each stage of the conflict.
In the Othman Era, Leaders of Al Bu Reshah Clan were strong enough to compete with the Othman Authorities for long time. Following the emigration of Shumar, Ea’nezzah and Ekeddat, there was a fierce conflict among clans’ Leaders. This conflict was empowered by the Othman authorities. However, at the time of the French mandate, Leaders of Clans were granted many privileges.

Consensus among tribal and national leaders between 1954 and 1958 constituted the title of the national era when Leaders of Clans were an active plyers in the political life.

At the time of deference, embodied during the time of Hafez Assad, and later with his son Bashar, the tribal pattern was capitalized on in service of the interest of Assads’ Regimes. This comes in the context of Assad’s policy of isolating most slices of the Syrian society from the national structuring project. Patriotic identity was crushed, and tribal legitimacy was demolished as military elite conquered power between 1963 and 2011. During that period, tribal leaders have always fluctuated and changed loyalty according to power holders Conversion of loyalty has been a typical trait of tribal leaders. Nawaf Al Basheer is a good example of this fluctuation.

In the light of foreseeable future consequences of the role of tribal leaders in the war in Syria, the indicator of the danger of their negative role is clear in their implementation of the Iranian strategy in return for money gains. Such a role will certainly destabilize Syria, its territorial unity and sovereignty in the light of increasing tribal territorial tendencies in the South of Syria and the Eastern Provinces where tribal leaders are shielding themselves with Iran’s military power. They want to create tribal cantons that remind us with the time of the French mandate. Political role played by tribal leaders has negatively affected the political process. Leaders of Clans have now become aware of the stalemate they have reached to in the light of public dissatisfaction with their discrepancy. Under effect of dramatic changes, tribal leading institution is staggering after new tribal players have come to the scene out of the noble values, they are committed to in accordance with their tribes’ ideals based on serving members of the tribe and mitigating its losses.

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