Though the Southern Syrian Province of Suwayda’ is primarily Druze, there is a notable Bedouin tribal minority in the province. I recently interviewed Sheikh Mamdouh al-Sa’id, a Bedouin sheikh of the al-Shanabila tribe. He is supportive of the Syrian government and is a resident of Suwayda’ city. This interview was conducted on 14 September 2018. Any parenthetical, explanatory insertions are in square brackets.
Q: First can you tell me a little about the Bedouin tribes in Suwayda’ and their history?
A: Regarding the tribes of Suwayda’ province, they have been living in Jabal al-Arab al-Asham for hundreds of years and they remain to this day. And there are in Jabal al-Arab al-Asham [Suwayda’ area: aka Jabal al-Druze] a group of tribes: al-Shanabila, al-Jawabira, al-Masa’id, al-Hassan, al-Sharfan, al-Azhmat. In the old days these tribes worked in rearing sheep like other Arab tribes but since 70 years ago these tribes have settled down and they are Syrian Arab citizens. Some of them have become teachers, educated people, and some work on the commercial and agricultural scale, and they are property owners in Jabal al-Arab al-Asham. And some still work in rearing livestock. So among them you have the doctor, the engineer, the teacher, the businessman and the farmer.
As for their relations with the Syrian government, the sons of the tribes in Suwayda’ province are distinguished patriots and they have not neglected any bit of the soil of this homeland like the other noble sons of the Syrian people. And we- the sons of the tribes- profess loyalty to the Syrian state and our sons are recruited within the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army to defend the homeland.
Q: Yes. But currently most of the Bedouin tribes in Suwayda’ live in the eastern countryside? Or some live in the biggest towns and others in the eastern countryside?
A: 80% of the sons of the tribes live in the neighbourhoods of Suwayda’ city and what is around it from the villages, while 20% live in the eastern countryside of Suwayda’ province, rearing sheep for the sake of the livelihood of their livestock that are the only source of livelihood for them and their sons.
Q: Yes. During the war have many of the sons of the tribes joined the Syrian Arab Army in order to combat terrorism? And how many martyrs do the tribes have during the war defending the homeland and dignity?
A: Yes, with regards to the sons of the tribes who are within the age of commission for enlistment, 90% of them have joined within the Syrian Arab Army and the sons of the tribes in the province of Suwayda’ have offered many martyrs, among them officers, non-commissioned officers and personnel. And their number has exceeded 50 martyrs, so from one neighbourhood in the village of Barika from the sons of the tribe of al-Atayiqa (al-Shahib) are 8 martyrs, and likewise [there are martyrs] from the sons of the tribes of the village of al-Kafr, al-Aslaha, and the city of Shahba and from the al-Sha’ab neighbourhood Malah region and likewise from the village of al-Qasr in the east Suwayda’ countryside. For the sons of the tribes are an indivisible part of the sons of the Syrian people. They have what they have from rights and on them is what is on them from obligations, among them defending the homeland and waging war on terrorism.
Q: In Suwayda’ province itself, have the sons of the tribes formed any auxiliary formations particular to them? I mean for example popular committees. And in what battles have the sons of the tribes participated inside Suwayda’ province?
A: This has not been suggested on the sons of the tribes: that is, forming any factions or popular committees, for protection of the civilian citizen is the responsibility of the state and we- the sons of the tribes- are entirely under the roof of the law.
Q: Yes, but there is talk that some of the sons of the tribes in the eastern countryside have become involved in smuggling diesel and these things. Is this talk true?
A: Regarding what concerns dealing in diesel: the ones who engage in that or other things are from the weak-minded and represent themselves and do not represent the sons of the tribes because their fundamental aim is to collect wealth and they are not concerned about anything else. And this phenomenon, people from all of the sects of the Syrian people have engaged in it: they represent themselves and do not represent all the sects of the Syrian people.
Q: Yes. Until now there are still big problems of smuggling diesel and kidnapping operations in the province?
A: Regrettably yes, with the knowledge that all the noble ones of the province in all their differentiation and sects are against these phenomena that have no relation with the sons of the province of Suwayda’ in all their sects and are not of our customs and traditions, because we- the sons of the tribes- have been working for 8 years until now to protect the patriotic kinship, civil peace and social fabric in the province. And we will not allow for anything besides that.
Q: In your opinion what are the main reasons behind these problems?
A: Previously, since the beginning of the crisis until three months ago, the main reasons were in order to obtain financial benefits, because when the person is kidnapped, a high ransom sum is sought for him by the kidnappers who are outside the law, and they are organized gangs working in secret between the provinces of Deraa and Suwayda’ to profit off the blood of innocents, and regrettably their members are from all the sects.
But when the Syrian Arab Army seized control and was victorious over terrorism in Deraa province, this phenomenon diminished but it has increased in the province of Suwayda’ recently without reason or cause, such that it has extended to killing and cutting heads in order to create strife and sow discord among the sons of the one people.
Q: Yes. Is it possible the problem is the multiplicity of auxiliary factions in Suwayda’?
A: I personally think that the multiplicity of factions and formation of groups not coming under the banner of the arm and random spread of weapons are a principal reason in the creation of the likes of these problems.
Q: Yes. Has the Syrian government asked these factions to dissolve themselves?
A: The Syrian government has dissolved some of the factions and withdrawn weapons from them, but they are few.
Q: Yes. This step happened recently? I mean dissolution of some of the factions and removing weapons from them.
A: Partly recent, and partly old. As for the period it does not exceed four months or less.
Q: Yes. In the Da’esh [Islamic State] attack on the province a month and a half ago approximately, were any civilians from the Bedouin tribes martyred?
A: Regarding the evil attack from this takfiri organization on our people and neighbours in the province: this attack is condemned and made our hearts bleed and wounded us in the innermost depth. And as you know, these terrorist takfiri organizations have no relation with humanity and the deeds of this organization and [that is also the case with] the crimes it commits against humanity and the innocents from the sons of the Syrian people and finally the sons of Suwayda’ province in the eastern countryside. We- the sons of the tribes and our neighbours the Bani Ma’arouf [Druze]- are in one trench against this organization, and I am not dissimulating or merely being polite on this matter. We the sons of the tribes in Suwayda’ province are prepared to pay the blood sum at any time if that is asked from us to defend the land and honour in Suwayda’ province for we will never be a base or corridor for this cowardly deed.
Q: Are the sons of the tribes participating in fighting Da’esh in the Suwayda’ badiya [desert] right now?
A: In a previous stage several months ago the sons of the tribes of Suwayda’ province participated in fighting this takfiri organization as an auxiliary for the Syrian Arab Army and the sons of the tribes at the time last a number of martyrs at the time. As for the recent attack, currently the Syrian Ara Army and auxiliary forces- I don’t know who- are fighting in the Suwayda’ badiya- al-Safa hills- and the sons of the tribes have not been asked to fighting at this time.
Q: Yes. Why is the campaign in the Suwayda’ badiya taking a long time?
A: Previously several months ago the Syrian Arab Army undertook a military operation in the eastern badiya of Suwayda’ from the Jordanian borders up to east Damascus countryside and with was an auxiliary force of the sons of the tribes in Suwayda’ province and sons of the tribes of Deir az-Zor province (the Sha’itat) and with them were factions from Suwayda’ province like the Natonal Defence [NDF] but this takfiri organization came back recently with the attack on the eastern countryside of Suwayda’ province, exploiting the war on the terrorist organizations in Deraa province by the Syrian Arab Army, which was crowned with the hard-won victory for the Syrian Arab Army.
Q: Yes, but I mean the campaign this time is taking a long time because of the nature of the mountains in which Da’esh has concentrated? Someone from the NDF told me that the mountains are like the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan.
A: The Syrian Arab Army is strong and will rout terrorism in every place whatever the difficulties that face it and the area is difficult and rugged terrain, true. But it will not stand- God willing- in the face of the heroic Syrian Arab Army that has sufficient skill in waging war on this organization in its evil methods, for the army is on truth, and they are on falsehood.