Raqqa: Syrian regime, SDF compete to win over Arab tribes

Meeting of Arab tribes in Azaz in Aleppo's northern countryside (Anadolu Agency)

Meeting of Arab tribes in Azaz in Aleppo's northern countryside (Anadolu Agency)


Enab Baladi – Raqqa

The clan has a social and political presence that cannot be overlooked in Syria and has been part of the armed conflict in the country in various stages, which applies to the Arab tribes in Raqqa, which made the Syrian regime and the Autonomous Administration controlling northeastern Syria rush to approach it.

The regime follows a policy of “submission” in its dealings with the tribal sheikhs, as they turn into symbols without actual influence after the Baath Party organizations, since the last century, have attracted members of the tribal communities, giving them a sense of control, and allowing some of them to carry out revenge operations.

Since the beginning of the Autonomous Administration’s control of the region, its meetings have intensified with a number of representatives of the Arab component, including notables of different Arab tribes.

This competition between the regime and the Autonomous Administration continues to this day. In the past short period, one of the notables of the al-Afadila tribe in Raqqa, Mustafa al-Abdullah, refused an offer made by a former intelligence officer to visit the coastal city of Tartus to meet with the Syrian regime’s security officials.

Al-Abdullah told Enab Baladi that his friend, who operated in the Political Security Division in Raqqa until 2013 (the year of expelling the regime from the region), has advised him to visit regime-held areas and to meet with officials there.

The regime’s security and military services, through people associated with it, are trying to search for permanent contact with Arab tribal figures in the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and al-Hasakah.

“Since the first day of the Syrian revolution, I refused to join any faction or work under its wing, despite its political opposition to the al-Assad regime,” al-Abdullah said.

He pointed out that his contact with a person in the Political Security Division was for considerations of old friendship, and this does not mean his support for the regime or what happened to Syria due to the criminal behavior of the regime since the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011.

Last January, the tribes of Raqqa declared their refusal to conduct any reconciliation, known as “settlements,” in response to a call by the Syrian regime in the town of al-Sabkha, 50 km southeast of Raqqa, and the pro-regime media accounts began to promote it.

Despite this, many Arab tribal figures and notables from Raqqa appeared on the regime’s media, calling on the tribesmen to agree to the settlements and return to live under the state’s authority.

“Many tribal sheikhs and dignitaries are still playing on the two ropes,” as the popular Syrian proverb says; they do not have a clear position from the Kurdish-led SDF or the Syrian regime, al-Abdullah said.

He added that this matter threatens the stability of the city of Raqqa and its countryside on the grounds that the tribal leaders associated with the Syrian regime and people from the regime’s controlled areas “will resort to causing trouble through their sleeper cells if the regime asks them to do so against the SDF or the Autonomous Administration.”

SDF and the tribal character

Most of the areas controlled by the SDF in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, al-Hasakah, and parts of the eastern countryside of Aleppo are characterized as having a tribal nature.

The SDF did not neglect this aspect, as it was able, since the beginning of its establishment, to win over and get close to many tribal figures, notables, and tribal leaders.

However, this matter angered the Syrian regime, which resorted to searching for ways to communicate with Arab tribal sheikhs and push them to work in its favor, causing unrest, security, and political provocations, and threatening the stability of the Autonomous Administration areas, according to a member of the Future Syria Party.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, a member of the Future Syria Party believes that the points that unite the Autonomous Administration and the Arab tribes are more than what divides them, especially with the presence of hundreds of thousands of tribesmen wanted by the Syrian regime, who refuse the return of the Syrian regime to their areas.

Because of this situation, the tribe in northeastern Syria represents a structure with features that are not clear enough due to an intentional distortion it was subjected to for years through the state-run media, even though it played an active role in Syrian politics through various historical stages, whether positively or negatively.

“Kurdish project”

The member of the Future Syria Party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that many Arab tribes still consider the Autonomous Administration project to be a “Kurdish project, despite the fact that the tribesmen rose to high positions in the administrative apparatus,” even in the first row of the SDF leaders.

He did not deny the existence of communication between Arab tribal sheikhs and the security services of the Syrian regime or even with officials in the regime’s government, which the SDF and the Autonomous Administration are aware of, but they do not take any action against these people, he said.

This talk comes at a time when the Arab tribal component is facing fears of consolidating the authority of the Kurds, who are accused of canceling the rest of the components and depriving them of their rights to actual participation in decision-making and self-determination.



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