A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Some More Nuances in Saudi Arabia's Turn Against Asad: Iran and Maybe the King's Tribal Links

I noted on Monday that Brian Whitaker at The Guardian had emphasized the role of Saudi Arabia's concern about Iran as a key element in Saudi Arabia's recall of its Ambassador from Damascus, as oposed to some sudden Saudi enthusiasm for democracy and human rights. Today's post at Foreign Policy by one of our best and most nuanced Gulf analysts, Greg Gause, takes the idea further and with greater subtlety.
But besides this Sunni/Shi‘ite issue, and its related geopolitical concerns about Iran in the Gulf, there's another issue that's got to be noted as well: the tribal one.

To give credit where it's due, in a comment on my first post on Monday on the subject, Ambassador David Mack, noted:
Timing of Saudi action makes me wonder whether there are important ties between the Syrian tribes in the Deir Azzour area and Saudi tribes on the other side of the border. Some of the latter are key sources of loyal personnel for King Abdullah's pillar of internal security, the Saudi National Guard.
Indeed. I think this is an overlooked key. Many have commented on how it was not the bloodshed in Hama or Homs or Jisr al-Shughur that alienated the Saudis: it was the assault on Deir al-Zor.  There are indeed many tribes that sprawl across the Saudi=Jordanian-Syrian borders and have marital and trade links across the border (the Ruwalla, the Nuaim, the Shammar for example). The main tribe around Deir al-Zor, and apparently a mainspring of the revolt there, has been the Shammar. (Oops: At first I said "Saudi-Syrian border" but Jordan is in between of course. They're in Jordan too.)

That may mean nothing to the media generally, but as everybody in Saudi Arabia is quite well aware: King ‘Abdullah's mother was from the Shammar.

 Blood feud, anyone?


C.Sydow said...

Saudi-Syrian border? Really?

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Oops, sorry. Saudi-Jordanian-Syrian borders.