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Tribal Modern

Tribal Modern: Branding New Nations in the Arab Gulf

miriam cooke
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 210
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  • Book Info
    Tribal Modern
    Book Description:

    In the 1970s, one of the most torrid and forbidding regions in the world burst on to the international stage. The discovery and subsequent exploitation of oil allowed tribal rulers of the U.A.E, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait to dream big. How could fishermen, pearl divers and pastoral nomads catch up with the rest of the modernized world? Even today, society is skeptical about the clash between the modern and the archaic in the Gulf. But could tribal and modern be intertwined rather than mutually exclusive? Exploring everything from fantasy architecture to neo-tribal sports and from Emirati dress codes to neo-Bedouin poetry contests,Tribal Modernexplodes the idea that the tribal is primitive and argues instead that it is an elite, exclusive, racist, and modern instrument for branding new nations and shaping Gulf citizenship and identity-an image used for projecting prestige at home and power abroad.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95726-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Bombay. February 1973.

    I was running out of money. After months on the road, I was tired of traveling. Busing and hitching across Europe through Turkey to Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass and Rawalpindi to Katmandu and down to Goa for Christmas and Trivandrum for New Year’s Eve had finally slaked my wanderlust. Instead of Bali, I decided to return to Bombay and then home. Home in oh-so-far-away England.

    With little money left, my only option was the “human cargo ship.” These vessels of misery left Bombay when they had filled with Indian laborers bound for the Arab Gulf. The...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Uneasy Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 16-29)

    “Where are you from?” I asked the attendant at one of the women’s dorms at Education City in Doha. Having noted the Qatari accent and the ˋabaya, I had assumed that this woman was one of the few Qataris working a lowly job.


    “Were you born in Iran?”

    “No. Here.”

    “And your parents?”


    “And your grandparents?”

    Nodding, she smiled. It was like sharing an insider joke. She knew the name of the town she was supposedly from but she was not sure where exactly it was located except that it was somewhere across the Gulf in the South....

  5. CHAPTER TWO Pure Blood and the New Nation
    (pp. 30-49)

    In the fourteenth century, the Arab historian-philosopher Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) proposed a new way to think about the rise and fall of civilizations. Humanity, he wrote, was divided between two distinct forms of social organization or civilization,badawaandhadara.Badawais the space of the pastoral nomad Bedouin forced by their circumstances to remain close to each other and loyal to the tribe to survive.Hadara, by contrast, is the settled place of urban ease where the blood bonds of tribal solidarity weaken and gradually come undone. Both are necessary to the ebb and flow of civilizations, and...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Idea of the Tribe
    (pp. 50-63)

    In the 1960s and 1970s, rulers disaggregated tribal networks, settled many nomads, and invented new forms of affiliation more acceptable and legible in the construction of modern nation-states. Crucially, the name of the tribe was replaced by the tripartite name, theism thulathi, which recognized three generations only. Tribal lineage beyond the grandfather was suppressed in order to eradicate forms of sociality that seemed out of date and in conflict with the creation of modern national identities. That, at least, was the official policy.

    In the meantime, the region has witnessed transformations never before imaginable outside the tales of the...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Brand
    (pp. 64-76)

    Far from medieval or primitive markers, tribes are modern. Thomas Huesken and Dave Logan alert us to the resilience of tribal structures and affiliations in Libya, and their relevance to leadership in today’s multinational corporations. Likewise in the Arab Gulf tribes mark contemporary identities. On the one hand, tribes are passive recipients: globalization has spread and crept into the remotest tribal areas, and opened them up to new media, new ideas, and new people. On the other hand, tribes are hyperactive: oil wealth has fueled ambitions for nationals–tribals to be recognized globally (Comaroff and Comaroff 2009, 122, 123, 182)....

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Building the Brand
    (pp. 77-98)

    I am driving through downtown Dubai in 2008 with a sinking feeling. There is something disappointing about the glass and steel skyline, the traffic jams, and the theme parking of the Orient. This is and is not the Empty Quarter with its fearsome desert stretching days across waterless wastes. The orientalist’s idyll has vanished behind rows of flashy hotels and multinational corporations. The flourishing civilization that Abu Dhabi’s Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan claimed was deep-rooted in the land for many centuries hides its traces behind “a strange medley of Wall Street and Disneyland, of American and Arabian symbolism....

  9. CHAPTER SIX Heritage Engineering
    (pp. 99-122)

    This narrative by a young Qatari man tells the story of his family’s move from their original home to Doha. It is a move from tribal harmony in a coastal town to the impersonal fragmentation of city life. In those days, tribes lived like the fingers of one hand. Outsiders appeared only briefly and occasionally, and hospitality to strangers was an unquestioned protocol. Memories bind the wounds of loss and weave wonderful stories on the loom of nostalgia.

    The Arab Gulf states, whose citizens are the first generation to grow up with a national rather than a regional and primarily...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Performing National Identity
    (pp. 123-137)

    This fairy tale by ˋAbd al-Karim al-ˋIzzazi appeared in the Qatari dailyAl-Rayaon September 7, 2010, three days before the end of Ramadan. It narrates the important role national dress plays in marking Gulf Arabs’ national difference, authenticity, and identity. Gulf Arabs’ are increasingly donning a uniform that turns every public appearance into a performance of national identity.¹ Men’sthawb,gutra, and ˋuqaland women’s ˋabayahave become more than everyday formal dress, they are thesine qua nonof national per for mances (Longva 1997, 116–25).

    Local dress signals not only the nationality but also the privileged...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Gendering the Tribal Modern
    (pp. 138-162)

    These are the words that Saudi journalist and mother of four Hissa Hilal dared to utter at the 2010 Million’s Poet competition. She found the perfect platform to throw down the gauntlet. She was the first female finalist in the Million’s Poet competition. Fully covered, she took her seat on the stage, faced the television cameras and recited “The Chaos of Fatwas,” her damning condemnation of religious men’s misogynistic interpretations of Islam.

    Echoing women poets like Suad Al Mubarak Al Sabah, who bemoaned an age when the forbidden is permitted and the permitted forbidden, Hissa Hilal attacked the religious authorities...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 163-174)

    For Qatari Soad Al Kuwari, modernity in the desert, the tribal modern, is a joke in a world full of jokes. Screaming, hissing, the cold, plastic emblems of modernity have appeared in the sepulchral desert. They are foxes dressed like women.

    Throughout this book, I have used the words of poets and writers to anchor my analysis of the tribal modern. Creative writers and artists are always ahead of trends, able to see beyond the confusion reigning during times of change. It was the poets, short story writers, and graffiti artists who were making sense of the 2011 Arab Spring...

    (pp. 175-176)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 177-196)
    (pp. 197-206)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 207-214)