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The Kalbiyya, or Qalbiyya, are a tribe, or tribal confederation, of the Alawite community in Syria.

Alawite background[edit]

The Kalbiyya are a tribe, or tribal confederation, of the Alawite community in Syria.[1][2] The Alawites, also known as Nusayris, are a prominent mystical[3] religious group who follow a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam.[4][5][6] They are divided into four tribes, sometimes described as tribal confederations: the Matawira, Haddadin, Khayyatin and Kalbiyya.[1][2][7]


At the beginning of the 19th century, the Kalbiyya had a reputation for lawlessness and were in open conflict with the Ottoman authorities.[8] In the 1850s, an English missionary, Samuel Lyde lived among them and built a mission and school.[9] He subsequently published a negative but popular account of his time there, in which he wrote that he was convinced that they were like St Paul's description of the heathen: "filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness".[10] He criticized their brigandage, feuds, lying and divorce[10] and claimed that "the state of [their] society was a perfect hell upon earth".[11]

The Kalbiyya consisted of five branches: Rashawneh, Junaydi, al-Nawasireh, al-Jurud, and al-Qarahilah. The Junayd family typically provided the confederation's leadership and was based at Tell Salhab, near Masyaf.[12]

Role in Assad government[edit]

The 1963 Syrian coup d'état was led by three Alawites: Salah Jadid, Muhammad Umran and Hafez Al-Assad.[13] Assad was from the Kalbiyya tribe,[14] Umran from the Khayyatin, and Jadid from the Haddadin.[13] Following Assad's seizure of sole power in 1970 (the Corrective Movement), part of his strategy was to concentrate control in the hands of members of the Kalbiyya tribe.[13] In practice, active participation in the Assad government has, since then, been limited to members of the Kalbiyya tribe.[15]


  1. ^ a b Khoury, Philip S. (1992). Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East. p. 138. ISBN 978-0520070806.
  2. ^ a b Commins, David (2004). Historical Dictionary of Syria. p. 28. ISBN 978-0810849341.
  3. ^ "Lebanon: current issues and background, John C. Rolland)". 2003. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  4. ^ Kramer, Martin. "Syria's Alawis and Shi'ism". In their mountainous corner of Syria, the ‘Alawī claim to represent the furthest extension of Twelver Shi'ism.
  5. ^ Fisk, Robert. "This election will change the world. But not in the way the Americans imagined". The Independent UK. Archived from the original on 6 May 2006. Retrieved 21 October 2006. But outside Iraq, Arab leaders are talking of a Shia "Crescent" that will run from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon via Syria, whose Alawi leadership forms a branch of Shia Islam.
  6. ^ The Plain of Saints and Prophets: The Nusayri-Alawi Community of Cilicia and its sacred places, by Gisela Procházka-Eisl, Verlag, 2010, page 81
  7. ^ Bar, Shmuel (2006). "Bashar's Syria: The Regime and its Strategic Worldview" (PDF). IPS. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  8. ^ Moosa, Matti (1987). Extremist Shi'ites: The Ghulat Sects. p. 276. ISBN 978-0815624110.
  9. ^ Moosa, Matti (1987). Extremist Shi'ites: The Ghulat Sects. p. 277. ISBN 978-0815624110.
  10. ^ a b "Secretive sect of the rulers of Syria". The Telegraph. 5 August 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  11. ^ Pipes, Daniel (1992). Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition. p. 165. ISBN 978-0195060225.
  12. ^ Batatu, p. 377.
  13. ^ a b c Bengio, Offra (ed.) (1998). Minorities and the State in the Arab World. p. 135. ISBN 978-1555876470.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Anthony H. Cordesman (2002). Peace and War: The Arab-Israeli Military Balance Enters the 21st Century. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 337. ISBN 978-0-275-96939-4. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  15. ^ Tejel, Jordi (2008). Syria's Kurds: History, Politics and Society. p. 58. ISBN 978-0415424400.