Tribalism and the War in Syria

Some thirty years ago at a conference in Princeton, Tahseen Bashir, the witty and urbane Egyptian diplomat and presidential spokesman, commented on Arab Middle East politics in a pithy sentence. "Egypt" he said "is the only nation-state in the Arab world: the rest are just tribes with flags." Bashir died more than ten years ago but his witticism continues to apply to the state of Arab societies and politics today. The weakness and artificiality of the Arab states is apparent in the continuing turmoil in Syria. Except for Egypt, all these states, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, were created by decisions made by Britain and France in 1916 and after World War I. They were carved out of the old Ottoman Empire. Political rule in these states has been invariably authoritarian in the demands by ruling authorities and groups for obedience, but not necessarily autocratic because the continuing power of tribal and religious organizations has limited central rule. The continuing war in...(Read Full Article)