Syrian wars of domination without hegemony
The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham began as the Iraqi affiliate of al-Qaida during the American occupation of the country (2003–2011), then managed to expand in the Syrian north and east since 2012. It split off with the other “Islamist” (predominantly Syrian) groups, in particular its chief rival the Nusra Front, when Isis leader, operating under the nom de guerre of Abu Bakr Baghdadi, demanded in summer 2013 the bayʿa from Nusra’s chief Abu Muhammad Jūlānī, another one of those war-machines pseudonyms. Had Jūlānī given his bayʿa (“endorsement”) it would have meant the end of the Nusra as an autonomous military unit; but having refused “endorsing” his rival, Isis marginalized itself, in one of its rare military setbacks, in the Aleppo region. There was a time until the end of 2013 when Isis controlled even some of the northern predominantly Kurdish neighborhoods in Aleppo (e.g. Bustān al-Bāsha), and the crucial “gateway” (mamarr) of Bustān al-Qaṣr, but ultimately withdrew when facing mounting pressures. Unconfirmed press reports claim that Isis has become a “wealthy revolution,” with tons of cash at its disposal, operating with a monthly budget of $50 million, and paying its militiamen, which happen to be from very diverse nationalities (including Europeans), a hefty $400 a month, which is at least twice what the others are paying. Here the “other” could mean anything from the Nusra Front, the main rival, or other Islamist groups, or the Free Syrian Army (FSA) for that matter. But while the latter, in all their conflicting configurations, religious or secular, are mostly Syrian, in the sense that were born and raised on Syrian territory, with a wide majority of Syrians into them, Isis by contrast saw its inception in Iraq during the American occupation, and Baghdadi himself was in jail until probably 2010. Its “Syrian” component is barely half of its military force. When Baghdadi declared the caliphate in the first day of Ramadan in early July 2014, he appointed himself as caliph Ibrahim, gave a public sermon in a prestigious Mosul mosque in a defiant gesture to the world-at-large, which marked his first public appearance ever (previous unconfirmed photographs of him during his captivity years were circulated by Iraqi intelligence; the Americans have set a $10-million reward over his head). A week later, as the head of the new “Islamic State,” which is now a “territorial reality,” in addition to being an act of the “imagination,” Baghdadi appointed “governors” (wulāt; s. wālī) over the newly gained ghanīmas (“booty”) of the central “Iraqi provinces.” What is striking here is that he proceeded with appointments that were not “local,” that is to say, were not “Iraqi,” as if the new “caliphate” has a de facto pan-Arab if not “universal” pan-Islamic mission. For example, the Libyan Abu Usama al-Miṣrāṭa (from Miṣrāṭ, Qadhdhāfi’s hometown and tribal area) was appointed as “governor” (wālī) to the Iraqi nāḥiya of Saʿdiyya in the province of Diyāla. But he was ambushed and killed four days later when his convoy was hit by a side bomb in Saʿdiyya, which has been under Isis’s rule for a month. The incident has probably to do with the refusal of the other Sunni militias, which have benefited from Isis’s expansion in June from giving their bayʿa to the self-appointed caliph. Among those groups are “the Naqshabandi group” of ʿIzzat al-Dūrī, who was Saddam’s ex-vice president, and which the Americans had failed to capture; in addition the Army of Anṣār al-Sunna; and the Islamic Army (al-Hayat, Beirut, 10 July 2014). (It was known that the Ottomans appointed administrators and governors in provinces that were not those of their origins, shifting them every few years, in an attempt not to have those governors intermingle more than they should with the local populace.)
What is important here, in the newly established caliphate whose territory stretches over northern Syria and central Iraq, is how a group like Isis, not to mention the other groups which are not to be reduced to their “Islamist” components, “govern” the populations, neighborhoods, towns, villages, tribal areas, which they seem to have “seized” “with ease.” The seizure of entire territories in central “Sunni” Iraq on June 10th comes to mind first in this respect: is such seizure an outcome of military prowess, the tactics of “guerilla” war which faces a much more equipped and organized army than its own (be it Iraqi, Syrian, or American), or has it more to do with a populace which initially suffers from poor systems of representations, has been ruled by “external” forces, including the “national state,” hence is not even a “society” in the first place.
To elaborate, what needs to be questioned is the ability of small militarized groups (experts assume that Isis controls parts of Syria and Iraq with no more than 10,000 to 15,000 well-trained but modestly armed men) to “govern” and “subdue” populations and territories (including tribal areas) which could be even “alien” to them, and with a minimal force which would be no more than 2 to 5 percent of the populations of the conquered territories. This is, in our view, the fundamental aspect of the Syrian wars, which have become since June joined Iraqi–Syrian wars led by militias whose organization is not much in sync with the populations.
Large portions of Syria and Iraq are now controlled by heterogeneous military groups, which in sheer number and equipment seem far below what the Syrian and Iraqi “national” armies have now or had for decades. Such groups come in sorts: some claim to be liberal democratic, like the Free Syrian Army, while the majority are jihadic, with Isis pioneering in this regard. For the most part, however, they do not seem to have anything that even comes close to a political or social “program” to “govern” the territories, tribes, villages, towns, cities and neighborhoods under their control. Their tactics are rather one of pure survival. First of all, in the conquest, withdrawal, and re-conquest, they would never adopt a style of frontal attacks, as regular armies would normally do. (T.E. Lawrence’s art of guerilla tactics against the Turkish soldiers and garrisons in the Hijaz come to mind here as a source of inspiration for understanding such methods; but also the “failures” of the Americans in Vietnam and later in Iraq to “subdue” or “kill” guerilla groups, from the Vietcong to the jihadists.) Second of all, once an area is conquered, they may or may not adopt a harsh style (arrest and torture of “opponents”), but even if they do they tend to be “friendly” with the population at large, not requesting much, as the sources of income tend often, though not always, to originate “from elsewhere.” That’s an important point: controlling a territory which would not de facto generate much income to the conquering group, at least not in the early phase. Thus, some of the resources used in Syria, say, in the northern-central areas of Minbij and Raqqa may come from other regions, for instance, the oil-wealthy region of Dayr al-Zor, or, indeed, from neighboring Iraq (the take over of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was particularly lucrative, bringing close to $500 million in a single day from the city’s banks).
Thirdly, we need to compare and contrast modes of “domination,” “governance,” control—in short, governmentality—between “the state” and “the rebel militias.” What stands as “the state” has been a steady evolution of modes of dominance, at least since the 1960s, which initially consisted of a takeover of the resources of the state by force. At the time, Syria, in spite of a brief but unfortunate union with Egypt, “society” was still fairly liberal and democratic, hence the forced seizure of power by the Baath has ended decades of liberalism. In Iraq, the liberal bourgeois state of the old classes went down with the coup of Abdul-Karim Qasim in 1958, hence the Baath brought a permanent, if not everlasting blow, to that liberalism.
Now that Isis is gone from Aleppo since January 2014, the “opposition” has come under a conglomerate of groups known as the Islamic Front, a rebel coalition dominant in the city and much of northern Syria. The Islamic Front is a fierce and effective opponent of Isis but also, in its Islamist platform and indirect connections with al-Qaida is a different beast than the Free Syrian Army. The FSA, surrendered as it is now in the southern neighborhoods of Salah-u-ddin and Sukkari and Sayf al-Dawla, among others, which had inaugurated the battle for Aleppo back in July 2012 (in the first year of the insurgency, the city remained totally “silent,” as it did in the “great revolt” of 1925), without water, food, and ammunition, is allegedly negotiating with the Asad régime its surrender and withdrawal à la Hama (May 2014), that is, without punishment or retribution. We’ll come later for an explanation as to why the city was taken over by “outside” elements, which negotiated their way by force through the southern neighborhoods, prior to moving east. It remains uncertain how much “local” elements of the popular neighborhoods have “contributed” to the uprising, which adds to that problematic that we have been following regarding the lack of “political autonomy.” I want, for now at least, to underscore that element of “externality” in the war process, and pose the question as to how “local” elements “articulate” with “external” ones coming from the “outside.” Let’s assume for now that, as we’ve witnessed it until the winter of 2011, there were more or less peaceful movements (from Damascus to Hims and Hama) which, facing the military brutality of the state apparatuses, were hijacked by militarized elements outside them, some of which, like Isis, were not even Syrian. Moreover, those peaceful demonstrations, which at some point in summer 2011 in Hama reached the million mark, had no particular organization. Their aim was punctual in the sense that they vaguely aimed at the presidency, even though the popular motto was no less than a “régime change.” For this very reason, the “opposition”-held areas in Aleppo and elsewhere cannot be said to be “opposed” to “the state” as such. There is an ambiguity to those militarized “oppositions” in their relations to the neighborhoods and the other localities which they have seized by force, on the one hand, and their relation to the state on the other; an ambiguity that we need to keep track of in its unraveling.
Isis’s abandoned headquarters in Aleppo are just across from another large building that serves as the base for Tawhid Brigade, one of the largest of the seven rebel groups that joined ranks together in November to form the Islamic Front. Isis had been present in opposition-held Aleppo since the beginning of 2013, but by the end of the year tensions with rebel groups had reached a crisis. Considering itself a sovereign state, Isis was refusing to accept meditation for any dispute, and it had taken to kidnapping those it considered to be critics or enemies, including people who worked with foreign journalists. Reporters found in its Aleppo abandoned building signs of prisoners being tortured and summarily executed (Matthieu Aikins, The International New York Times, July 8, 2014).
On January 7, Isis carried out a surprise attack on Tawhid Brigade’s headquarters. It was held off. The next day, Tawhid Brigade forces from around the city counterattacked and surrounded the hospital. “We cut them off and prevented them from bringing any support,” said the commander who led the offensive and who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Assad.
At around 3 a.m., the Isis fighters trapped inside the hospital asked to be allowed to leave the city, and Abu Assad, not wanting further bloodshed, agreed. When he and his men searched the hospital at first light, they discovered that Isis had massacred its captives. “We found a group of bodies every ten meters,” said Abu Assad. Most of them had been shot in the head while bound. Not long after the battle, the rebels had recorded a footage of the liberation of the hospital and its aftermath which was posted on YouTube.
The battle against Isis in Aleppo is part of a larger conflict that started at the beginning of this year, as rebel groups across the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo—including the powerful Syrian al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra—fought a pitched battle to expel Isis. The face-off left the Islamic Front pre-eminent. It controls the key border crossing with Turkey at Azaz and, with its estimated 50,000 to 60,000 fighters, is thought to be the largest and most potent rebel alliance in Syria.
The Islamic Front is entirely Syrian in leadership, and its central goal is to overthrow the Asad régime. Many of the group’s most powerful members—including the Tawhid Brigade and one of the largest factions fighting in the Damascus suburbs, Jaysh al-Islam—are not particularly ideological, and were once allied with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.
But they are far from secular. The Islamic Front draws on support from pre-war Islamist resistance networks, including wealthy, religious donors across the Muslim world and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and exiled Islamist group, who turned underground in 1982, amid the massacres and destruction of Hama, which pitted at the time the régime of Asad-père against the Brotherhood. (The mini-civil war was initiated in 1979 when allegedly members of the Brotherhood killed dozens of Alawi officers at the Artillery School in Aleppo, turning many of the city’s popular neighborhoods unsafe in their fight against the régime.)
One of the coalition’s key members, Aḥrār al-Shām, has links to al-Qaida’s core leadership, and the Islamic Front as a whole closely coordinates operations with Jabhat al-Nusra.
By the summer of 2014, the Islamic Front, together with Jabhat al-Nusra, and the FSA, are fighting a battle of survival in Aleppo, which has been cleared out of Isis. The régime’s armed forces, which look more and more like a popular militia, with 10,000 plus Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen on their side, not to mention Iranian military “experts,” Russian support and so on, are preparing for a major offensive against Aleppo this winter. That would entail a complete takeover of the eastern and southern popular neighborhoods, and the expulsion of the Islamist militias. Already, we are told, the FSA, which controls its own neighborhoods in the south, where the battle has originally started in 2012, is in negotiation mode with the régime: to surrender with our lives and equipment intact. If such an offensive turns out a “success,” the régime will be left with Isis in the east, its main opponent, and various rebel groups in the Idlib and Hama provinces, not to mention the Damascus–Hims countryside, and the border with Israel.
For its part Isis controls territories in the central north and the north-east, which since June it has “opened” to Iraq by seizing most of the Iraqi border crossings. What is important for our purposes, from the perspective we have been following, is to document how Isis has tightened its grip on the territories it has controlled in the Syrian north and east: what are the procedures, and how this control is negotiated on the ground with tribes, villages, neighborhoods and cities. A Lebanese reporter, writing from Amman, Jordan, has noted that Isis uses different modes of domination between Syria and Iraq, where the movement had originated during the American occupation. In Iraq negotiations with the tribes and the underground Sunni militias are more “subtle,” in the sense that they take into consideration the latter’s “interests,” not to mention the Sunni–Shiʿi divide which is inexistent in Syria. Thus, the Iraqi Isis takes the others as “partners,” while managing the overall operation. It has adopted, in some ways, the policies that Saddam Hussein, the Americans, and the government of Nuri al-Maliki had opted with those same groups.
In Syria things are a bit different. In light of its June successes at expanding in central “Sunni” Iraq, Isis (now “the Islamic State” pure and simple since the first day of Ramadan) decided to tighten its grip on the Dayr al-Zor region (which has been renamed “wilāyat al-khayr,” the province of goodness, upon the declaration of the caliphate on the first of Ramadan). For one thing, the region is the only oil-producing area in Syria, and Isis managed to control the majority of the oil wells for at least a year, even selling its services to the Asad régime. For another, it wants to establish in every locality a long-term mode of domination: how that is achieved is our concern in this section.
The eastern town of al-Shaḥīl is mostly tribal in its composition, known to have been a stronghold of the Nusra front, for the simple reason that its leader Abu Muhammad Jūlānī comes from there, hence his nom de guerre is supposed to divert attention, while manifesting sympathy for the occupied Golan Heights. In July 2014 Isis forced more than 30,000 inhabitants of Shaḥīl to leave their homes, having already tortured and mutilated Kurdish fighters in the north, and executed opponents in those same areas (al-Hayat, Beirut, July 7, 2014). The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the only agency to have documented such executions and the forcing out of populations since 2011, claimed that an additional 30,000 were forced to leave (hijra) in the area of Dayr al-Zor in the towns of Khushām (at least 15,500 inhabitants) and Ṭābiyeh (15,000). Many of the Islamist groups mentioned above gave their bayʿa to “caliph Ibrahim” in the first week of Ramadan upon the latter declaring himself the amīr al muʾminīn, as did the two towns in the second of July. But Isis would nevertheless not permit the inhabitants back until they’ve been “forgiven” (tawbah) for what they did, that is, for having sided with Nusra and fought the Islamic State. To the inhabitants the sine qua non condition of “forgiveness” is only an excuse for a permanent hijra.
On the other hand, having seized all oil fields in Day al-Zor, except for the one located at Ward, which has only one well producing 200 barrels a day, Isis began selling crude oil for SP2,000 a barrel or $12, but it forces those same merchants for selling it at no more than $18 in order to accommodate more popular support in its own areas. However, such prices are much lower than when the oil fields were controlled by various Islamic militias, including Isis, at which time, back in 2013, the militants used to sell the oil at the high price of $30 to $50 a barrel. Isis is also planning to sell gas demijohns in the areas under its control, sprawling from Dayr al-Zor to the eastern suburbs of Aleppo, the Turkish–Syrian frontier, and ʿAyn al-ʿArab, with the exception of areas under Kurdish domination, in addition to the eastern countryside of Hims and Hama, and other areas, the total of which (excluding Iraq) is five times the Republic of Lebanon.
Nor is the management of crony capitalism the only talent that Isis has developed in the larges stretches that it has seized between Syria and Iraq. In early July, in the south of Hasakeh, a city in the north-east with a majority of Kurdish population (together with Assyrians and other Christian minorities), Isis fighters have mutilated the bodies of Kurdish militiamen from “the Units for the protection of the Kurdish people” which were killed in action when Isis attacked villages in the area west of ʿAyn al-ʿArab. The bodies were hanged in public on podiums in the presence of small kids, after exposing the bodies in the Jrāblus area.
A pattern has therefore emerged which consists in the following: (1) seizure of a territory by force through military might; (2) the territory could be as small as a single neighborhood, a village, a town, a countryside, or as big as Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city; (3) the technique of warfare consists of guerrilla warfare in small numbers, not frontal attacks (cf. T.E. Lawrence on guerrilla warfare against the Turkish army in the Hijaz); (4) Isis would “share” those conquered territorial units with its “opponents” (Kurds, Nusra Front, FSA, the Islamic Front, all of which have shared territories against their absolute enemy, the Asad régime; however, allegations that Isis is an “offshoot” of the Asad régime seem unfounded; the régime, until recently, with Isis’s expansion in central Iraq has been more “lenient” with the Islamic State, probably because it served as a tool to simultaneously weaken the FSA and Islamic Front; Jūlānī has been released from the jail of Ṣadnāyā at the end of 2011, so that the régime would point fingers at “Islamic terrorism” among opposition ranks) but only if it finds itself in a “weak” position, that is, unable to dominate the others; (5) Isis is more at ease when it is in full control of a territory, rather than sharing it; (6) when it is in a full-control mode, Isis would accept no less than the full “subjugation” of the populations under its control; if the latter had fought against Isis they should ask for repentance (tawbah) and openly give their mubāyaʿa or bayʿa to the new caliph (and the institution of the caliphate); (7) Isis would then establish an “economy of war” in the conquered territories, whereby it would control the most lucrative resources available, beginning with the oil fields, trade routes and businesses. Isis would impose itself as a complete monopoly in a “marginal” capitalist economy where the common people would not be allowed to compete with the master. It would allow anything that would give it the income it needs (its estimated budget allegedly stands at $50 million a month). For example, a member of the Majādhmah tribe in the Minbij area told me that a Turkish cell company decided to plant a reception tower near their village, considering that the only two Syrian cell companies have been for the most part cut off in the north. Isis agrees, only because it receives commissions from the Turks, and the more Syrian consumers buy minutes from the Turkish cell company, the better.
The main point is this: the mode of “domination” remains fairly superficial—at the surface—which only involves “allegiance,” but no new social bonds, no hegemony, class alliances and the like. In short, it is dominance by force but without hegemony. We need to question whether such mode of dominance is in any way different from that that has been instituted by the Baathist state for over half a century, or whether there is anything unique to it.
Let us take as example of the process of negotiation and the economy of war in the province of Dayr al-Zor which is almost fully under Isis’s control.
In early July the people of the town of al-Qūriyyah took to the streets at night to demonstrate their unwillingness to let Isis rule their small town (al-Hayat, 9 July 2014). As reported in al-Hayat, from the London-based Marṣad of Human Rights, negotiations were soon initiated between the elders of the tribes of the western countryside (Khaṭṭ al-Shāmiyyah), and the leaders of the Islamic Brigades, on the one hand, with Isis on the other side. The purpose was to achieve an end to war and settle peace between all parties.
What is interesting here were the conditions (shurūṭ) set by the tribes and the Islamic Brigades—as a single party—for a settlement.
1. The Islamic Brigades would keep their infrastructure intact in all the western countryside of Dayr al-Zor, but would nevertheless declare their bayʿa to Isis and uphold its banner (rāyah).
2. The Brigades would not deliver their armaments, heavy or small, to Isis.
3. Isis would only enter the western countryside in small numbers, to be limited to the “immigrants” (muhājirīn) only, that is to say, from non-Syrian citizenships; thus, Syrian citizens are not welcomed at all.
4. No one that Isis has on its lists of wanted persons would be arrested.
5. All parties would agree to fight the [Asad] régime.
6. The formation of a sharʿi board (hayʾa sharʿiyya) that would be common to Isis and the other parties.
The Marṣad’s “witness” on the ground added that Isis’s prime response was that “there is no negotiation unless the other parties give up all their arms.”
Whatever the outcome of such negotiations, what is interesting here are the conditions set by the tribes and their militias on the ground, that is, the original populations of the western countryside in Dayr al-Zor. What is revealing in the list of the six “conditions” above is that the tribes and their affiliated militias would declare the bayʿa on the proviso that they keep their arms and military infrastructure intact. The bayʿa therefore seems like a minor event, which could be negotiated and exchanged at face value, practically bearing no importance in relation to any essence, which is the military economy of those tribes and their sense of autonomy. Moreover, the insistence on “immigrants”—that is, strangers, which could be Arab, African, Asians, or Europeans—over Syrians points to the fact that the main problem resides in the allocation of power relations among “Syrian” tribes. The bayʿa, therefore, provides that institutional umbrella through which the likes of Isis operate: subjugate groups to Isis’s dominance by giving them rewards which were initially withdrawn from them. In some ways, Isis’s “politics” borrows similar mottos from the Baathist state, not to mention French colonial rule or the Ottomans.
The bayʿa is a sign of loyalty that takes place on a one-to-one basis: not only a specific tribe, but every faction of the tribe (ʿashīra) must specifically declare its loyalty; and so would each faction of the fighting brigades. Which makes the bayʿa a quintessential speech act: an act of declaration where the loyalty of the tribe and its affiliated brigade is openly declared in public. Thus, based on the above report (al-Hayat, 9 July 2014), the “majority” of the “forces on the ground” have openly declared “their bayʿa to the Islamic State and the caliph of all Muslims Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [a.k.a. Khalifa Ibrahim].” Those “powers” (jihāt, “directive forces”) on the ground are then enumerated one-by-one: the people of the town of Ṣubaykhān, Dablān, Ghuraybah, al-Kashmah, Duwayr; then follows the enumeration of the Jund al-Sham Brigades, a total of 12, whose names include common male or female heroic personalities in Islamic history, locations, or metaphors: al-Muʿtaṣim bi-l-llāh, Nūr al-Islām, Jund Allāh, al-Ḥārith, Khālid ibn al-Walīd, ʿAysha umm al-Muʾminīn, etc. The naming is here important because it is inscribed within the logic of speech act: the point of honor of the party that declares the bayʿa to the caliph and caliphate—and to itself—and that would do everything that it takes to remain “loyal.” But then the bayʿa is characterized by a logic of domination which practically leaves intact the structure of the groups that have “subjugated” themselves to the conquering group, or other tribes or tribal factions, or “the state” for that matter, or in the not-so-remote-past local “administrations” which worked on behalf of the far away Ottoman state.
One should note here that if the tribes and tribal factions (ʿashāyir) have manifested some resistance to Isis, setting at times conditions for their “surrender,” it is because the tribes of the east are better structured and “harder” than the ones in the central-north in the region of Raqqa, which has become Isis’s official headquarters since 2013. In this instance, the fragility and tenuousness of tribal structures makes them vulnerable to the likes of Isis (and to the other Islamic Brigades as well), a vulnerability that was already manifest under the Baathist state for over half a century.
Mustafa al-Burayji, an astute observer located in the city of Raqqa, told al-Hayat (July 11, 2014): “Once Isis has entered the city as a faction, it rushed at finding a partner (rāfid) among the society of tribes in the province, in which it found an easy prey, considering the fragility and tenuousness of those tribes. Which gave the latter the opportunity to look for easy money and status. Isis was in the meantime using a combination of force and promises through its armed men which were kidnapping (abducting) and beheading their opponents at the sight of the shaykhs of the tribes, helped in this by young members of the tribe of Burayj which had given their bayʿa to the organization. That was the beginning of a bayʿa process that took one tribe after another, beginning with Burayj and ending with ʿUjayl, Bu Jāber, Subkhah, ʿAfādilah, Bu ʿAssāf, Hunādah, al-Shibl, al-Sakhānī, al-Ḥuwaywāt, and Zurashmar… That was completed with the tribes east of Aleppo, represented by the Bubnah in Minbij, and the Khaffājah in Maskanah, in addition to the tribal factions of al-Barri, the Ḥadīdiyyīn, and the Nuʿaymāt… The leaders of those tribes and tribal factions were led in the past to manifest their loyalty to then-president Hafiz al-Asad for the sake of some money and racketeering (ṣuṭwa) which his Baathist governments had deprived them of.”
Note how an observer who is resident of the city knows for sure how to name the tribes one by one (the naming of their “affiliated” brigades, however, is quite different), because naming in relation to the bayʿa only happens on a one-to-one basis. That is to say: tribes would not give their “allegiance” collectively, that would be a meaningless act pure and simple. To understand why this is the case, we need to understand that for each bayʿa with one of the tribes or the tribal factions (ʿashāyir) comes an individual “reward” for the tribe in question. The “reward” would invariably give the tribe “privileges” over an area, like the collection of fees, dues, and racketeering schemes. Such “privileges” would be “on behalf” of Isis, or any other group. But what distinguishes Isis from the other military groups is their systematic requirement of the bayʿa, as the sine qua non condition for the survival of the organization in its newly conquered milieus.
Considering that the tribes and tribal factions have not for the most part invested themselves in men and equipment in the civil war, the bayʿa comes as the closest “investment” in the war effort. However, the bayʿa would neither entail much submission to the “strong” party, nor an “ideological” commitment of sorts. In effect, the bayʿa entails submission to the party which happens to have controlled the area in question, which in this instance is no one else but Isis; other areas which are controlled by the Nuṣra Front manifest their allegiance to al-Qaida’s leader Ẓawāhiri and his “affiliate” Jūlānī (the latter had already given his bayʿa to the former). In all such instances, however, there is no ideological commitment, but only an organization of power relations whereby the “subjugated” party would receive a modicum of “economic” privileges, but not much in the order of the political and ideological. All of this does not so much point in the direction of Isis’s strength, but more in the direction of the fragmentation of tribal formations, in particular in the central north of the country, more specifically, the territories located between the east of Aleppo up to ʿAyn al-ʿArab. But even where the tribes are stronger, as in the Dayr al-Zor region, along the border with Iraq, the process is in the final analysis not much different. For their part, the likes of Isis and Nuṣra behave as if the tribal structure would not matter much to their own internal organizations, as they approach them from the “outside”—domination without hegemony. To wit, whenever Isis imposes its well famed “Islamic norms,” based on its own self-appointed marjaʿiyya, on a territory, such “norms” leave intact tribal structure, neighborhoods, towns and villages. In short, there is no attempt to “integrate” through newly imposed norms: they only are imposed norms without processes of normalization. Thus, for example, because in the process of the bayʿa what matters first and foremost are the “trusted authorities” (al-thiqāt), Isis has set in Dayr al-Zor an office which is presided by a man from the Burayj tribal faction, which handles more security issues rather than administrative ones.
At times, a tribe’s “strength” might give it additional privileges. For example, the bādiya of Dayr al-Zor hosts some of the most powerful tribes, such as the ʿUqaydāt and Baqqārah, which in turn are composed of several tribal factions (ʿashāyir), and which have not “urbanized” as the Raqqa tribes did. Thus, the “integrity” of the ʿUqaydāt has pushed the Asad-père régime to strengthen its ties with it for 40 years, to the point that the eastern town of al-Muḥsin became known as “the treasury of the officers of the Syrian army.” For his part, Asad-père had crowned his associations with the eastern tribes by marrying his son Maher to the daughter of the chief of the tribal faction of al-Judʿān.
The various bayʿas and counter-bayʿas to either Isis or the Nuṣra did not quell the competition among tribes and their factions, in particular in the presence of oil in the eastern regions, and the advantage that Isis has manifested in its thorough organization across “national” territories and in its control of the Iraqi–Syrian border on both sides. As the tribal chief of the Bū Sarāya noted, “Isis knows how to give the best offer when it comes to oil, which drives competition and fitna among the tribes, which in turn drives some tribes outside the competition because they bear no interest on the matter, such as ours” (al-Hayat, July 11, 2014).
Such “allocations” of revenues, oil or otherwise, which are the property of the Syrian state in the first place, could turn violent. The Dayr al-Zor region thus enflamed when Amer Rafdan, a leading tribesman from the ʿUqaydāt, was shot to death, having turned against Jūlānī for the sake of Baghdādī, endorsing the latter with his full bayʿa. The leader of Isis had in effect approached Rafdan with a lucrative deal apropos oil revenues. The new deal—and bayʿa—gave Isis unprecedented control over the oil wells of Jafrah, Koniko, Khashshām and Jadīd ʿUqaydāt, while leaving tribal equilibrium in limbo, with continuous warfare between the Bū Jāmel, on the Nuṣra side, and the Bakīr, on the Isis side. The “deal” seems to work, therefore, on both sides. Isis (or the Nuṣra for that matter) is unable to exploit the oil resources on its own, without the protection that the tribes could furnish to the wells, and the latter have proven unable to organize on their own to exploit the oil wells.
Such divisions came in conjunction with rifts within the ranks of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) whose Dayr al-Zor military decided to give its bayʿa to Isis, which led the latter to take more oil wells in addition to gas pipelines worth billions of dollars, leading also, out of fear, to more bayʿa among tribes that have thus far been “neutral,” such as the Bū ʿIzz al-Dīn and the Baqqārah. In sum, Isis is now in nearly full control of Dayr al-Zor, its countryside and desert, having subdued to it the Nuṣra, the FSA, and the tribal factions, all through lucrative oil and gas deal, which involve protection of the well and pipelines on one side, and the commercialization of the products on the other. However, with all kind of rifts among the tribes and the militias, and the oil wells nearby, the “eternal peace” is not there yet.
 The title borrows from Ranajit Guha’s concepts of “domination” and “hegemony.”
 Both the terms of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, are inappropriate, as both the Levant and Syria denote meanings that are incongruent with what Sham implies for the purported dawla islāmiyya: the Levant would look like a colonial reality in line with Sykes-Picot, which means “artificial” borders created from the “outside,” through colonial administrators in Paris, London, and elsewhere; while Syria gives the impression of a postcolonial “national” state. Al-Sham by contrast should be understood in its “prophetic” meaning: that of a religious territory which is not fragmented along clearly demarcated borderlines, and which comes “next” to the holy Ḥijāz area. Isis is known as “Dāʿish” in Arabic, for the acronym of al-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi-l-ʿIrāq wa-l-Shām, but if an unfortunate would utter such a word in public in an Isis-controlled area, he could be punished with 80 whips.
 Of the so-called “corrective movement,” ḥaraka taṣḥīḥiyya, which “corrected” and acted upon the early Baath of the 1960s.