The Kalbiyya are a tribe, or tribal confederation, of the Alawite community in Syria. The Alawites, also known as Nusayris, are a prominent mystical religious group who follow a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam. They are divided into four tribes, sometimes described as tribal confederations: the Matawira, Haddadin, Khayyatin and Kalbiyya.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Kalbiyya had a reputation for lawlessness and were in open conflict with the Ottoman authorities. In the 1850s, an English missionary, Samuel Lyde lived among them and built a mission and school. 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". He criticized their brigandage, feuds, lying and divorce and claimed that "the state of [their] society was a perfect hell upon earth".
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.
Role in Assad government
The 1963 Syrian coup d'état was led by three Alawites: Salah Jadid, Muhammad Umran and Hafez Al-Assad. Assad was from the Kalbiyya tribe, Umran from the Khayyatin, and Jadid from the Haddadin. 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. In practice, active participation in the Assad government has, since then, been limited to members of the Kalbiyya tribe.
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