A Non-Anthropologist Looks at Tribes

AIAS and RANA university hosted a presentation by Michael W. Albin on 15 January, 2017.

This highly original and entertaining book spotlights the tribal leader from Biblical times to the present day, and from Morocco to Afghanistan. It strips away layers of romantic myth and misconception about tribal society, the fundamental building block of Middle Eastern culture. Yes, of course shaykhs were desert bandits, maritime pirates, and unruly subjects of sultans and dictators. But they are also diplomats, peacemakers, and businessmen. At their best they place the interests of their people above all else. At worst, they can be notorious leaders.

Chapters cover the defining moral foundations of tribal order: honor and equality; who is and who is not a shaykh; application of the tribal code in war and peace; administration of the code in everyday life; and the environmental, economic, and political changes that threaten stability and the very existence of each tribe. An analytical postscript tracks the shaykh as he struggles to rescue the tribal way of life in today’s Middle East cauldron of violence and instability. There are explanatory footnotes, maps, illustrations, glossary of terms, a bibliographic essay, and an index.

Michael W. Albin draws on a lifetime of academic and practical research and study at the Library of Congress (1975-2004) which included assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey. From 2007-2011.