21 Mar 2013

It’s ever so simple: a tribal map of the Middle East

Hint: It's not really about the map, which I didn't draw. Source: http://arthurzbygniew.blogspot.co.uk/p/air-bulletin.html
The Middle East. The land of minarets and veils and other inaccurate clichés. Where every male’s earliest memory is being assaulted by a stranger who cut off a piece of his genitals. And they wonder why there is so much aggression. The Middle East remains a mysterious place that defies Western understanding because of its complexity and the stubborn refusal of so many to accept broad generalisations about it.

This unhelpful pedantry has fortunately been challenged by several brave Western observers who carried out extensive research in the area, mainly by talking to taxi drivers from Cairo to Tehran and, whenever that proved unsatisfactory, they made up conversations with taxi drivers. While this evidence is not ‘real’ in the conventional sense, it does however prove their theories.

The most dominant theory describes the Middle East as an area of ancient and timeless tribal rivalries that keep it locked into conflict and ensure it receives more than its fair share of news coverage. So who are these tribes and what makes them tick? Here’s a handy guide:

The Sunnis

The Sunnis are the largest tribe in the Middle East, primarily because there are so many of them. They are described as the sleeping giant of the Middle East, although sometimes they are more of a crouching giant, or a giant that is about to stand up.

Many of the old dynasties of the Middle East were Sunnis, such as the Umayyads, the Memluks and the Ottomans, who were very good at making furniture. This explains the sense of entitlement that Sunnis have, and they tend to walk around strutting like they own the place. Due to their vast wealth, they do actually own the place, in addition to other valuable assets in Europe and America.

The leaders of the Sunnis are divided into oil sheikhs and religious sheikhs, but the two should not be confused. There is increasing speculation that their real leader is one Azmi Bishara, who is not himself a Sunni but is highly respected due to his luxuriant moustache, a highly-valued feature in Arab culture. Some argue that he is a wizard who has put a spell on Sunni leaders, but there is little real evidence to support that theory.

The Shiites

A long, long time ago something bad happened to the Shiites and, dear Lord, do they like to go on about it. (See also: The Jews). This tendency to dwell on the past has come in handy though, as the Shiites underwent a significant revival in the past few decades. Their warriors have acquired a mythical status and, dear Lord, do they like to go on about that.

The Shiites are the second largest tribe in the Middle East, and their leaders tend to be almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the clergy. The leaders are divided into two types, regular and supreme. This novel approach to leadership can lead to occasional misunderstandings, and calling someone Supreme Leader can get to their head.

The Shiites’ avowed enemy is the Great Satan, but this is just a nickname for a major empire and should not be confused with the regular Satan. For reasons that nobody quite understands, the Great Satan handed the Shiites control over Iraq despite this deep animosity.

The Christians

The Christians are divided into a number of smaller tribes, such as the Copts who claim to be the original inhabitants of Egypt, the Assyrian who claim to be the original inhabitants of Iraq, the Syriacs who claim to be the original inhabitants of Syria and the Maronites who claim to be the original inhabitants of the universe.

The Christians’ main preoccupation is worrying about their continuing existence in the Middle East, but somehow that doesn't stop them from immigrating in large numbers and having fewer children. They like to draw attention to their persecution by wearing expensive gold symbols of their suffering.

The Jews

The Jews are also known as the Hebrews, the Israelites, and the Zionists, which makes it easier to evade people who lent them money. They are one of the smallest but best armed tribes of the Middle East, thanks to their links to the powerful North Atlantic Tribal Alliance and its head Hussein Obama. The relationship between the two is a tad too cosy and has been described by political scientists as ‘bizarre’, ‘inexplicable’ and ‘a bit gay’, due to incessant public proclamations of eternal love.

The vast majority of Jews in the Middle East are not originally from there. They escaped from ghetto life in Europe by moving to the region and living in an, er, large ghetto. Most of their tribal leaders are chosen from the ranks of the military, a fact that we won’t comment on.

The Kurds

One of the best Sunni leaders, Saladin, was Kurdish, but they were never shown any gratitude for that.

The Druze

The Druze are distinctive among Middle Eastern tribes because they believe in reincarnation, a fact that one of their most prominent leaders regularly illustrates by being reincarnated in a different ideological form about every two years. He is believed to possess supernatural abilities that allow him to see into the future, despite his choices being proven wrong on a regular basis. But that’s part of the endearing mystery of Middle Eastern tribal politics.

The Atheists

The atheists are a kind of 'None of the above' option. The smallest tribe in the Middle East, they number in the hundreds spread between London, Paris and New York. They say things like 'I live in Paris but my heart is really in Cairo'. They are generally quite irritating.

The Others

The fact that they’re called the others says it all, really.

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  1. Brilliant writing. Most fun I've had with bigotry in the middle east in years.

  2. You can make it a one man show and say it with a Starbucks cup in your right hand :D

  3. Tribes with flags :-) Did you plagiarize this from a US Marine manual? I have a similar one for the second world war.

  4. Thank you! God knows we need a laugh these days

    (probably because God is also as disturbed and annoyed by all of the above highly irritating tribes)

  5. Karl, in one simple article you have shown a deeper understanding of the Middle East than all of the NYTimes journalists put together. Thank you for this article!

  6. Excellent piece! I wonder how long it will take for some western media types to reference this as fact :-)
    Keep the humour coming ... it's appreciated!

  7. Funny! Best description of the shites (merely a one-eyed version) ever. I always believed the atheists, as opposed to the biggots, cannot be made much fun of. And here is yet another proof! I pray to god that we atheists thrive on.

  8. "One of the best Sunni leaders, Saladin, was Kurdish, but they were never shown any gratitude for that. " That's because he never did a thing for Kurds, he was a puppet leader for Muslims and Arabs, in which they never pay him an attention!

  9. Reblogged in http://almustarib.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/its-ever-so-simple-middle-east/ .... as usual,.... too great! :D

  10. About the others:

    "... an Egyptian joke, told about a man going home one evening, only to find himself surrounded by an armed mob who demand “Are you with Us or The Others?” With Us, he replies, whereupon they shoot him dead declaring that they are The Others." (From an article by David Price-Jones)

  11. The Middle Eastern states aren't nations; they're quarrels with borders. - P. J. ORourke


Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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