Saturday, April 7, 2012


The word ‘tribe.’ Think about it, my Western readers. Likely it brings up thoughts of primitiveness. Backwards. Uncivilized. Rough. Uncultured. Barbaric.

Before coming to Oman, I’m afraid I had similar premonitions regarding the word. Tribalism just was not a concept I associated with the modern world. Then I came here, and I redefined what tribalism means, at least in the context of this region. In Oman, a tribe acts as a buffer of people between family and other people. Members of a tribe are often friends, they marry, and they are involved (at least historically) in similar trades.  Private schools can be composed of large groups of one tribe, though they aren’t usually exclusive. Members of one tribe generally have the same religious sect. Although many people have moved away from their tribe’s home area, on weekends and for holidays like Eid people tend to return home to their tribal homes.  

Now think about the more recent history of the Middle East: the Arab Spring. The United States says it will support the democratization of the region, and to some extent it has. But I find it quite interesting what came before that—in the early- to mid-1900’s, the dictatorships in place in so much of this region were put there by Western superpowers, especially Great Britain and France. But before imperial powers came to implant their leaders of choice in the region, the primary form of governance was tribal: one of the purest forms of democracy. Just some food for thought. 

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