The Bedouin Settlements


Bedouin settlements refer to the nomadic communities that used to live in Syrian deserts from as early as 13th century. The Bedouin tribes can presently be found in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel (Ibn, Cole & Altorki, and Franz, Shryock). In some countries like Israel, they are not recognized by the Israel government as legal, and they are often referred to as “the Unrecognized Villages”. The population of “the Unrecognized Villages” has been on the increase over the last decade despite the slow recognition process of these communities. This has led to the increase in their population and the exact number of these communities is unknown. Most of these persons were brought up without official permit. This is the reason they are not accepted by the government, and therefore remain ineligible for services such as electricity connection, water and garbage collection, and do not participate in election of government officials. They are spread out in the north of Negev, and are mostly situated nearby to the military fire zones. According to recent reports, the unrecognized villages living in Negev forms the one group of the Arabs of Israel that still possess a large land. The semi nomadic Bedouin tribes inhabited most of the semi-arid region of Negev in the 19th century. By the year 1896, the unrecognized villages lived in almost complete freedom since the Ottomans were no longer interested in them and did not intervene in the Negev and Bedouin. The history of this group has been looked at by different writers and one of them is Ibn Khaldun. In this discussion we will look into the validity of the works of Cole & Altorki, and Franz, Shryock towards Ibn Khaldun`s view concerning the Bedouin settlements,


The Bedouin Settlements

According to Ibn, the Bedouins is a natural group it lives as any natural organization. He describes them as people with different economic activities, which include agriculture and keeping of animals. On the other hand Cole distinctly describes the Bedouins as pastoralists living among people who engage in agriculture as an economic activity. According to Cole and Altorki, the Bedouins exchanged their animal products with firm products. However, Ibn says that the Bedouins grazed their animals in the fields and those who engaged in agriculture cultivated vegetables and other crops. Cole informs that the Bedouins, after they harvested and used barley from their land as fodder, as they considered livestock more important.

This group, like any other group, organized themselves in social groups for the need to meet needs such as food, shelter and warmth. According to Ibn, the Bedouins could only meet their needs to their subsistence level; this is because they were unable to provide anything beyond subsistence. However, Cole and Franz indicate that the group could not have luxury things because they were moving from one region to another. According to Cole, they lived in tents and could not own expensive things like chairs. Their houses were made of mud, and sticks. Ibn’s article reviews the nature of the Bedouin tribes in Syria and the changes that followed during the past three decades. Syria has been involved in efforts to wipe out tribalism since 1958 with no success as alternative perceptions of authority and power attached to tribal leaders continue to exist. According to Ibn, the Bedouins organized themselves according to their tribes and their choice of leaders was according to families. This is because every member of the wanted to the leader. However in 1982, there was a change in the government attitude to the extent that they allowed the Bedouin leadership to accomplish and change the critical state development efforts to support their status and customary leadership. The social structure of the Bedouin tribes has been defined as grounded on the contradictory and parallel segmentation of entities at several levels of realism and fiction. Segmentation in this case refers to the subdivision of the tribe into smaller parallel sections. Tribalism remains the center of argument for the three authors. Franz presents information on how the government put effort to control tribalism did not hold. For instance, in Franz`s works, it is indicated that, the camel rearing tribes of the great Aneza and Shammar moved north to conquer the Badia and Jazira of the great Syria. This was termed as an opportunistic move to create patron-client dealings or be raided with agricultural settlements. The movement also focused on escaping the Unitarian reform movement in Islam, which was established in the Central Arabia. According to Shryock (1997), the Shammar Confederation were the first to move to the region and unproductively confronted the long-established sheep herding Mawali and Fadl tribes in the Badia, and they later moved to the North and East, where they settled across the Euphrates river. It is therefore, clear that tribes used to invade one another due to their nomadic nature of living. The sheep herding tribes who first settled in Buddie befriended themselves to the local patrons such as Governor Ottoman and remitted taxes to the state authority to defend their interest. The camel raising groups on the other hand did not see themselves as subjects of the Ottoman, and they did not pay taxes to the government. They were therefore regarded as free, large, and organized groups that were sometimes seen as a threat to the sitting government, but they also played an important role in the state`s regional security. The government here is trying to defend one tribe, at the expense of the other tribe, thereby deepening the conflict as there is no sense of inclusiveness.

According to the article, the rivals’ tribes were incorporated in the government of the day. For instance, the tribes that controlled the main military district were given control of those areas and received payment from the Sultan in return. These tribes were also mandated the right to levy taxes on passing traffic by the control of a security district. By the mid of the 19th century, the Aneza tribes had firmly established themselves in the Badda region. However, the article does not show the point at which Bedouin tribe started to receive government assistance. As Franz indicates, by the early 20th century, most of the Bedouin leaders had received education and some of the sheikhs who received such education went on to work in the Imperial Ottoman Army. Most of the Western travel writers, explorers and political agents frequently commented on their unclear presence and involvement in the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, it is clear that the relationship between the government and each Bedouin tribe was for tribal benefits.. Every tribe had its own interests and every tribe organized themselves as a group to benefit from the leadership of the state.

How the Bedouins Settled

According to Ibn, the Bedouins are unable to settle in the city because of the large population and lifestyle in the cities. This is because of the expensive life in the city. According to Ibn, the Bedouins do not have income that can sustain them in the cities; they are used to living in areas with low cost of labor and cheap commodities. It was therefore difficult to settle the members of the tribes. This group tried to settle under the French rule. The French sought to strengthen and follow the classical divide and rule policy in the area they had settled. Thus, they openly maintained the existence of all religious minorities in an effort to weaken the nascent Arab nationalist movement. They instituted Lebanon, the predominantly Christian country by putting together some parts of Greater Syria. The rest of Syria was later alienated into five semi-independent parts revealing the religious differences and cultivating regional rather than the national sentiments. It is clear that there was a change in the way tribes coexisted, since the French government adopted the style of divide and conquer. For instance, the Bedouin tribes were divided and encouraged to set up their own nation in Badia under the supervision of a French special unit. The French required the cooperation of the Bedouin for specific reasons. First, they could not leave their recently attained mandate territory out of their control of which they were required to guarantee a continuous and secure channel through the region for trade and travel to Baghdad.

Franz in his article shows the Bedouin Authority trying to settle the disputes that existed between them and other tribes to regulate their migrations. Although they were working under the French territory, the Bedouin Authority encouraged them to carry out their affairs in the traditional manner. This meant that they could not use arms into the settled regions, and they were encouraged only to fight among themselves. The Bedouin however rejected all these requests. The French government later came up with more stringent measures to control the Bedouin; this was triggered by the hostilities that existed between the Aneza Confederation and the Shammar. Franz agrees with these peace efforts by the Bedouin tribe; they therefore formed a peace conference in 1930 that could be utilized to bring peace among the tribes. This move was turned down by most tribesmen and a section of the tribes resorted to break away and seek refuge beyond the borders of the French mandate. Those tribe leaders who persisted were given unopposed representation in the French national assembly

In another twist, Cole illustrates the complete turnaround of the political situation. By the 1940s, the French had effectively terminated the political relations that existed between the tribesmen and their leaders where they had settled. They officially recognized the leaders who were ready to work with them by establishing a system of subsidies which were used to dispel the Bedouin leaders from their popular power base. In addition, the French arrested the once fluid social and physical universe of the Bedouin to better administer and manage the region. Tribal privileges to specific pastures and water regions were known as belonging to specific leaders and were frequently patrolled by the French to safeguard their territory and ensure there was no return of violence and disputes. According to Franz, during this era, mutual land ownership system was substituted by the French and utilization rights to private land registration. The unregistered land was given out to the tribal authority in the emergency decrees. This hasty agricultural push at the cost of grazing land had frequent consequences on the Bedouin tribes. This led to the tribes leaving Syria and detached themselves from the political scope of the French. By the time French left Syria in 1943, their strategy of divide and rule had intensely disturbed the spirit of the recent independent states. The Bedouin did not rise, but remained unwilling to give in to the Syrian authority. This turn accorded the Bedouin tribes a special and separate status that led to the newly independent government`s great suspicion. Therefore, the Bedouin resistance to French authority accords them the independence from the colonial masters.

In the work of Cole, the nationalist government followed a violent tribal policy aimed at stopping all tribal treats and power accorded to the Bedouin society. Settling the tribe was their main aim in this process. A move to agriculture, as well as sheep ranching was considered an appropriate model because it was held by many international development agencies. The Syrian government however failed to justify for the strength of tribal bonds and culture, which the Bedouin society was able to maintain despite the extra-ordinary pressures that existed in the urban environment. In 1947, the nationalist party had the ruler and its rule was generally unpopular given the collapse of the Syrian armed forces in the Palestinian war. The French mandate law of tribes was removed and interchanged with a new law of tribes, which continued to allow the Bedouin to carry weapons in the Badia. According to Cole (1981), the interior minister was mandated to eliminate tribes from the list as he wished and replaced them as a settled community and no retreat to nomadic life was allowed. There was sudden availability of capital, introduction of tractors and combine harvesters and this assured them of large areas of cultivation in Badia and the Jazira where there were large lands for exploitation. New laws were formed later that mainly included the new law of the tribes, the land reform laws and settlement policy laws all proved punitive to the Bedouin leadership. Later in 1958, the Syrian government voted for their union with Egypt. This became a blow to the Bedouin tribes and their leaders who were fully settled, and this led to the end of their independence and power. Legislation laws were passed to deal with the Bedouin tribes and leaders to end their leadership, and for some of the tribes, it was a sign of their deportation to their motherland. According to Franz, the Bedouin tribes were ready to settle but the leadership of the state they were settling them genuine with their efforts to settle them. The New land reforms were enacted between Syria and Egypt, these reforms mainly emphasized on permanent settlement and new land registration. However, the main aim was to destroy the power of the Bedouin, as well as their tribal leadership to establish a national identity among all the citizens, which united them as a nation, thus, rise above all religious, regional, communal, tribal, and racial factors. In the aftermath of the independence, the unstable tribal nation puts all the efforts towards the unity of all the tribes; all the above authors are in agreement with this.

In the late 1959s and early 1960s, there was another effort to settle the Bedouin tribes. There occurred a severe drought that seriously affected the Bedouin in several parts of the Arab world and several states distributed subsidized fodder and came up with sedentarization projects in response to the crisis. The drought brought about many other changes that affected livestock keeping. These changes were coincidental in that there was an increased flow of funds, increased urbanization, and high population growth rate, increased demand for dairy products and widespread utilization of vehicles for transportation. These changes made transport cheaper, led to increased production, as well as an increase in profits from livestock. When the drought occurred, the Syrian government came up with an arrangement to transfer the Bedouin and its tribes from the interior ministry of agriculture with the main aim of taking over management in Badia. The government at this time came in to revive the diminishing livestock industry without restoring authority to the former Bedouin tribal leaders or giving them back their lands. However, this proved to be difficult for them given the fact that they did not understand the Bedouin methods of animal husbandry more especially with the improved methods of agriculture and the recent grazing land confiscation by the government. By 1968, the international development experts joined hands with the government and declared Badda region severely degraded due to overstocking and poor management practices and this led to the collapse of the government grazing projects. The government did not succeed Bedouin animal husbandry as there is total collapse of this sector due to overgrazing. The Bedouins therefore were never settled and the efforts are still being made towards achieving the same.

The Current Bedouins

Cole indicates that, by 1970, the Bedouin had split into two groups. One group emphasized on the significance of social reforms within the country while the other group looked on the outward and sought to establish a strong force with an aim to challenge the Israel government. The minority groups of the community were included in trying to consolidate power. Later, Asad as the absolute head of the military and political leadership guaranteed that majority of the central members, as well as the crucial elite were all Alawite (Ibn khaldhun). He was therefore able to take over resources and determine access to economic opportunities, and negotiate the related benefits and powers of the various social groups. He was able to create an organized system of distribution of national resources centered on the political control of powers and the removal of threatening alliances. To bring about all these changes, he expanded the military and security forces of the country so as to achieve the total workforce by the end of that year. The Bedouin conflicts came to an end in the Asad era as new conflict resolution measures were put in place. The Bedouin tribes took it into their hands to solve conflicts involving tribal members through the traditional channels under the principles of customary law as advised by Asad. Here, both Ibn Khaldhun and Cole are in agreement of the efforts by the Bedouin leaders towards uniting once divided community.

Franz and Cole & Altorki give a discussion about the settlement of the Bedouin tribes. The Bedouin tribes finally occupied the semi-arid areas and arid parts of Syria for most centuries. They have always strived to maintain good relationships with their populations and the boundaries of their territory. However, their lack of enough self-sufficiency means that they have always been linked to various non-pastoral societies by economic, social and political relations. In the Syrian government, they are considered the regional specialists in livestock breeding whose close social and political ties relates to their pastoral kinsmen. The Bedouin tribe has adopted new methods of production and changes in their way of living regarding transportation and labor and adaptation of effective strategies, for instance, they started using pickups instead of camels. In addition, they also settled permanently in Badda Valley where they even started doing farming. They have sought a multi- resource strategy, seeking labor opportunities in income earning activities such as transport and commerce in Lebanon, Arabia, and the Gulf states. Men and women have entered into the unskilled daily wage labor where they receive daily payments that enhance their daily living. They have also opted to join the construction industry where they work as casual workers and are in turn paid daily. Other tribes have settled and focus on farming. Regardless of the multiple occupations and living lifestyles of the Bedouin tribe, they have still maintained the close social ties with pastoral kinship and maintain the local linguistic and cultural markets that identify them as Bedouin (Ibn khaldhun). They are mainly regarded as desert dwellers, and it has come to make sense as they derived their cultural identity from the association with tribal genealogies and myths of origins. Those kinsmen who remained mainly focused on mainly on herding and they have seen an immense transformation in the past 30 years. Therefore, all the authors in the Bedouin tribe as a closely knit nomadic tribe, that later came to settle in arid parts of classical Syria, in what is today eastern Lebanon.


In summary, from the discussion above Ibn Khaldun's view about Bedouin "settlements" seem valid in light of the works by Cole & Altorki, Franz and Shryock because they all give the same argument about the Bedouin tribe. It has given light about the way of life of these people and how they fought with the Syrian government and how they finally settled in various parts. The way they moved to their current area of settlement is also highlighted. The discussion has also given a highlight on the activities that the Bedouin tribe has majored in, for instance, farming and cattle rearing, which are their main sources of income. There is also information on how the tribes organized themselves regarding leadership, and how they maintained their relationships and territory.

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