Ras al-Ain leans towards tribal rule in resolving disputes

A tribal reconciliation agreement was concluded between the Sheikh Issa tribe and the Qar'an tribe in Ras al-Ain - January 5, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

A tribal reconciliation agreement was concluded between the Sheikh Issa tribe and the Qar'an tribe in Ras al-Ain - January 5, 2024 (Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Ras al-Ain

Residents of the city of Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah, resort to their tribal and clan references to resolve disputes and issues that arise among themselves, instead of going to the courts in the city, which is home to about 115,000 people.

Some residents see this phenomenon as positive because it contributes to resolving issues peacefully, avoiding violence, and reducing societal tension, while others see it as a phenomenon with negative effects, including the loss of some rights and clan pressure on the individual.

The clan as an alternative to the judiciary

Ras al-Ain has a tribal nature, like most areas of the Syrian Jazira, and is located on the Turkish border, where it is controlled by the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), and administratively follows the Syrian Interim Government (SIG). It is surrounded by front lines with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the Turkish border is considered its only point of access to the outside world.

The reasons for disputes are varied, while fraud crimes in Ras al-Ain have increased by 60% during the last six months of 2023 compared to the preceding six months, according to a previous report prepared by Enab Baladi, raising tension levels between families and clans in the city of Ras al-Ain. In some cases, the situation escalated to threats.

To avoid any tribal collision, some of those involved in such disputes decided to leave Ras al-Ain, while others were forced to give up all their property in the city, including land and houses, to settle debts incurred by one of their family members through similar fraud operations.

Muammar al-Youssef, who is a party to a dispute over a property with his uncle in Ras al-Ain, told Enab Baladi that the dispute began more than 30 years ago over an agricultural land of 25 dunams.

He added that the dispute continued through more than 20 court sessions without reaching a solution, prompting him to resort to tribal law, explaining that he reached an agreement in less than a month after resorting to the tribal solution, which stipulates that his uncle relinquish 25 dunams for his benefit.

Al-Youssef mentioned that he resorted to tribal law due to the weakness of civil law, the inability to apply it, as well as the social and tribal status of the clan elders, and their influence on the conceding party.

Mazen al-Sayyed, a resident of Ras al-Ain city, turned to the tribes to resolve his dispute with his neighbor, a dispute over the boundaries of their houses. He explained that the dispute began when his neighbor claimed that the boundaries between their houses were not accurate. He attempted to resolve the dispute amicably, but his neighbor refused and threatened to resort to weapons.

In this case, al-Sayyed had no choice but to turn to the clans, as the most “responsive and fast” option in finding solutions compared to the courts.

Al-Sayyed told Enab Baladi that the reconciliation session held between him and his neighbor was attended by tribal sheikhs and leaders, and after a long discussion, they reached a fair solution that satisfies both parties, which is to redraw the new boundaries between their houses.

A tribal community not without negatives

A member of the Sharia Committee in the Office of Reconciliation between Clans and Tribes in Ras al-Ain, Abdullah al-Salem, told Enab Baladi that resorting to tribes and clans to resolve disputes is common in the region for several reasons, the most important of which is that the community of the region has a tribal nature, so disputes are usually referred to the clans.

He added that the residents of the area are mostly Muslims, so they believe more in Sharia ruling than the civil ruling made by humans, pointing out that tribal reconciliation is characterized by its quick accomplishment, as it does not exceed two sessions, while a ruling in ordinary courts may take months or years.

Al-Salem spoke about a prevalent idea in society that the courts are not trustworthy and are a place for bribery, which pushes residents to turn to clans and tribes to resolve their disputes.

On the other hand, lawyer Ahmed al-Ali from Ras al-Ain explained that resolving problems between residents through tribes and clans is an old social tradition but carries many disadvantages, the most important of which is the loss of some rights and the lack of guarantee to apply civil law fairly.

Al-Ali explained that sometimes the problem might be resolved in a way that harms one of the parties, or some rights might be overlooked, due to the control of the tribes and clans over society, and their significant influence on the judiciary.

Inadequacy of the law

Enab Baladi contacted the legal office of the local council in Ras al-Ain to inquire about the widespread phenomenon of tribal rule, and the response indicated that the residents’ turn to the clan or tribal system in the city and in the Jazira region in general is not new but dates back to decades, and the reason for this popularity is the absence of legal systems and the state capable of applying the law.

The response of the office indicated that the turnout has increased significantly over the past years due to the continued conditions of political and military tensions, and the residents of the Jazira region turn to tribal sheikhs and tribes to resolve their disputes because they believe that the tribal system can provide a fair and quick solution to disputes, and it relies on customs and traditions that society respects.

The legal office considered that the tribal system has positive and negative features. On one hand, it contributes to resolving disputes quickly and peacefully, as it is based on customs and traditions that society respects, and on the other hand, it may be a means of social pressure, as one of the parties might be forced to waive their right under threat of being expelled from the clan, cutting off relations with them or being banished from the clan.

The population of Ras al-Ain is about 115,000 people, with 6,500 of them being displaced persons, according to statistics obtained by Enab Baladi from the Social Services Center. The majority of residents are engaged in agriculture and livestock breeding or day labor, and earn a wage that does not exceed 30,000 Syrian pounds per day (approximately two US dollars).

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