While tribes can consist of clans, kinfolk, extended families or other kinds of structure, the city is made up of classes, institutions, production relationships and means of communication, culture and ethics.

And while the city brings forth people that are subject to the changing, conflicting values of a trade- and industry-based economy, the tribal society retains its unchangeable, Bedouin social structure that reproduces itself within the framework of a subsistence economy: agriculture and pasture farming and, at best, primitive trading activities. On these things are based all the concepts, customs and traditions that themselves shape life: marriage, divorce, revenge, raids, honour and shame, capture, dividing of the spoils and banishment from the tribe.

The traditional tribal society dissolves in the modern state. However, tribal structures continue to exist in the city, even in those cases where the coincidence of a geological discovery by the West turns a centuries-old society into an urban one.

After states began gaining independence – in particular from the 1960s onwards – entire belts inhabited by migrants from the land and the steppes grew up around major Arab cities. These migrants formed the backbone of a class of cheap labourers and the rank and file of newly established armies.

Egyptʹs former president Gamal Abdel Nasser (photo: dpa)
"With the exception of the Nasser military coup in Egypt that sought to establish a national pan-Arabic project on the basis of the Arab Nahda (renaissance), which ended with defeat in the Six-Day War in 1967, all other Arab coups have resulted in a reproduction of autocratic, family-centred, tribal and denominational power, albeit in different guises, deploying different slogans and built on different ideologies," writes Faraj Alasha

The statesmen who putsched their way to power discovered a bottomless reservoir of false awareness in this impoverished, rural Bedouin milieu. And so the culture of the shepherd and flock became the basis of a putschist "revolutionary" power strategy that was buoyed up by slogans such as "freedom, socialism and Arab unity" – propaganda banners without any basis in reality.

With the exception of the Nasser military coup in Egypt that sought to establish a national pan-Arabic project on the basis of the Arab Nahda (renaissance), which ended with defeat in the Six-Day War in 1967, all other Arab coups have resulted in a reproduction of autocratic, family-centred, tribal and denominational power, albeit in different guises, deploying different slogans and built on different ideologies.

Safeguarding power through a sense of tribal cohesion

Take, for example, Saddamʹs rise to power in Iraq. It took place in a society that had become increasingly developed and educated since the 1920s, but adhered to perfidious secret service mechanisms that centred on the power of the family, tribe and religious denomination.

Saddam Hussein started out in a secular, socialist party. Having poisoned his predecessor, President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, he managed and reinforced his power by applying the tradition of tribal cohesion to his autocratic party, an elite Republican Guard, the secret service and the oil sector.

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