08 April '11
"Even American arms and training, European funds and global political support will not turn the Fatah regime in Judea and Samaria into something upon which Israel can depend. Only the establishment of eight homogeneous tribal states, based on the urban population, can survive for long. At the same time, Israel must always retain control of the rural expanse to prevent it from becoming entrenched, missile-equipped Hamas hilltops, like the hills in southern Lebanon and the tunnel city dug under the Gaza Strip."
Middle Eastern Insights - No. 5 - Why Has the Domino Effect Been Halted? - A Theatrical Reminder
Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation)
Middle Eastern Insights
No. 5, 8 April, 2011
Why Has the Domino Effect Been Halted?
Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, president of Tunisia, fled his raging country this past January 14th, after a twenty-eight day period of protests left seven hundred dead. Husni Mubarak, president of Egypt, left office on February 11th after eighteen days of riots resulting in four hundred dead. All the commentators spoke of the “domino effect” that would overthrow most, if not all, Arab rulers. At this writing, and despite the ongoing protests, the dead and the wounded in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Syria and Iraq, two months have passed with no other president or king resigning or being ousted. This begs the question of why the successes in Tunisia and Egypt have not been replicated in other Arab countries.
The answer lies in the sociology of Arab countries. In recent decades, Tunisia and Egypt have experienced a transition from the village life to the city; people moved to the cities individually or as part of nuclear families comprising parents and children. They were cut off from the tribe or clan with whom they had grown up in the desert or village, joining thousands of city dwellers who had also abandoned traditional tribal life. These people become part of professional organizations (e.g. unions of engineers or merchants) formed to advance and safeguard their particular interests, and of political-ideological societies (e.g. Socialists, Communists, Democrats or Islamists). Members of these organizations share a common interest or ideology, not family ties. Familial ties differ in principle from ideological allegiances and shared concerns; while family connections cannot be replaced, mutual interests and ideologies are subject to change.
As a result of the demographic developments in Egypt and Tunisia, a political elite arose – people who came together on the basis of common interest and ideology, not of familial or tribal ties. Ben Ali and Mubarak were surrounded by those whose support was based on shared interest and ideology, with no family obligations. By contrast, kings and presidents in most other Arab countries rule via their tribes, whose thousands of members are planted in the government, army, security agencies, political parties, local authorities, government-owned companies and all key decision-making positions. They support the head of state not for his sake or that of his rule, but for their own sake and that of their tribe; they know that if he falls, their heads will roll. Iraq, where Saddam Hussein placed his fellow Dulaim tribesmen at the head of every important government body, is a perfect example.
This is also the case in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain: When the president or king looks behind him, he sees his brothers and his first-, second- and third-cousins standing firm, supporting every decision he makes, because their fate depends on his. Their struggle to remain in power is a struggle for life in every sense of the word. It is a combination of “them or us” and “rule or die”.
By contrast, when Ben Ali and Mubarak turned around, they saw only supporters whose backing depended on their own strength and on their ability to serve the interests of their own followers. As soon as these presidents appeared weak against the masses, ministers and officials withdrew their support, leaving them isolated.
The public in Saudi Arabia – particularly the Shi’ites in the east – is very familiar with the mutual support system of the tribes who united to establish the monarchy; they know full well that these tribes will fight for their survival to the last drop of blood of the last Saudi. In Libya, both sides continue to fight despite heavy losses and thousands of dead, because the alternative of each is slaughter at the hands of the other. The ’Alawis in Syria know that they will be massacred as infidels and because of the massive Muslim blood they have shed since seizing power in 1966. In Yemen, the Sanhan tribe of Ali Abdallah Saleh and those related to it succeeded so far to stay in power since they are united against an opposition driven by several agendas: There are those trying to restore independence to South Yemen, which existed prior to 1990; some, funded by Iran, represent extreme Shi’ite interests; and others support the Global Jihadists known as al-Qaeda, most of whom have found refuge and shelter in Yemen’s tall, steep and rocky mountains. In Iraq of March 2003, It is possible that Saddam Hussein’s obduracy against the Coalition resulted from the backing of his tribe and his belief that the Iraqi army, commanded mainly by his fellow tribesmen, would hold its own against the international forces.
In these tribal countries, state institutions such as parliament, political parties, the judiciary, a constitution and elections act as a modern cover for tribal rule by the collective will and governing impulse of the dominant tribe; this outward appearance of legitimacy enables the regime to maintain power. The people know the truth, go out to demonstrate and the ruling tribe shoots with intent to kill, in well-known Middle Eastern tradition.
Nevertheless, these tribal regimes are not immune forever. As long as tribal unity hold sway, the ruling group can remain in power, withstanding the masses at the cost of many lives, and prevailing even against Western military forces, as in Libya. If and when there is tribal infighting and divisiveness, the tribe will begin to function as individuals, each concerned with their personal agenda, and the whole tribe will collapse. The defections from the Qaddafi camp should be closely monitored, because if they spread, he will abdicate, flee for distant refuge and leave his tribe at the mercy of the rebels and their knives. He will try to assure the long-term safety of his supporters, but is unlikely to succeed.
A note regarding Iran: The ayatollahs function as a tribe because powerful religious glue binds them together and the threat from the secular majority generates a strong and fierce loyalty among them. The Revolutionary Guards will rule Iran under the ayatollahs’ leadership as long as they remain united. The moment the ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard officers begin to fight each other, their rule of Iran will come to an end.
A Theatrical Reminder
This week saw the assassination in Jenin of the Israeli-Arab actor and director, Juliano Mer. The murder was carried out by a member of Hamas who did not view the theatrical activities established by Mer, in which men and women worked together, favorably. Mer was killed because such theater does not conform to the moral code of his murderers; after issuing warnings, they acted against Mer as do Islamic fanatics against anyone who threatens traditional Islamic values.
This assassination serves as a reminder to anyone who has fallen asleep on the watch in recent years: Jenin was, and still is, a center for murderous Jihadists, who will do away with any person who crosses the boundaries they have set. Today it is Mer, tomorrow it is any Palestinian politician who will make peace with Israel and agree to concessions with which the Jihadists do not agree.
It is possible that the Hamas suspect is, indeed, the murderer and the Palestinian Authority’s security agencies suspect his involvement because they know him to be a Hamas member. This indicates that there is a Hamas infrastructure in Jenin, despite its image in recent years as a quiet and terror-free city thanks to the security forces of the Palestinian Authority. It is thus clear once again that Israel cannot rely on the Palestinian security apparatus which failed in June 2007 to safeguard the Authority’s power in the Gaza Strip, and will fail again if Israel abandons Judea and Samaria (=the West Bank).
These security agencies represent like-minded views and ideology, rather than tribal interests; their ability to survive for long against a hostile public is therefore limited. Even American arms and training, European funds and global political support will not turn the Fatah regime in Judea and Samaria into something upon which Israel can depend. Only the establishment of eight homogeneous tribal states, based on the urban population, can survive for long. At the same time, Israel must always retain control of the rural expanse to prevent it from becoming entrenched,
missile-equipped Hamas hilltops, like the hills in southern Lebanon and the tunnel city dug under the Gaza Strip.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = == = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
= = = = = = =
The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel.
Translated by Nachama Kanner
The article is dedicated to the memory of Avraham ben Yitzhak Rosenzweig.
If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page.
Who firebombs a grave?
2 days ago