The end of the dialectical symbiosis of national and tribal identities in Syria

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Since the 1970s, the Syrian regime has been attempting to build a ‘Syrian national identity’ to promote identification with the Syrian state (al hawiyya al-wataniyya) while concurrently following policies of survival and legitimisation, to preclude suppressing tribal identity (al hawiyya al-asha'rya). The regime instead fostered tribal identity and relied on it when confronting internal and external challenges. The Syrian regime's policies aimed to empower tribal identity, while seeking to manipulate this perception for its own ends. As a result, tribal and national identities have been integrated in a relatively harmonious way for three decades. The economic liberalisation project that Bashar al-Assad pursued, however, disturbed the delicate balance that Hafez al-Assad had constructed between the national and tribal identities. In the wake of the Syrian uprising, it has become clear that tribal identity was a significant element in the conflict that engulfed the country, shaping local politics and influencing social dynamics in north eastern Syria and parts of the south. Over the past few years, tribal identity has become a powerful form of expression in Syria, which is increasingly evolving to replace its national counterpart. This paper will use a constructivist approach, which argues that tribal identity has its roots in the origins of the tribes but has been subject to external manipulation by political actors in their struggles for power. In Syria, as in other states, such actions carry the risk of civil war, precipitating degrees of state failure (Hashemi, 2015) in which the tribal and national identities clash.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-153
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


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