From Beirut to Jerusalem
Thomas L. Friedman
• Hama, a once-picturesque city in Syria, was the site of a brutal massacre in February of
1982 (Friedman 76).
– The massacre, undoubtedly the work of the Syrian government, specifically the
Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad, was estimated to have left 10,000-25,000 dead
and thousands more homeless (77).
– The cause of the massacre was mostly friction between the Sunni Muslim guerilla
groups of the city, called the Muslim Brotherhood, and the mainly Alawite
Muslim/Christian government and military (77-78).
– It is from his visit to the city of Hama post-attack and the tragedies he witnesses
that Friedman formulates his “Hama Rules,” a set of rules that not only pertain to
Syria but to most of the Middle East, highlighting the ruthlessness and gore of the
conflict in the area.
– The logic of Hama Rules is “a combination of three different political traditions all
operating at the same time” (87).
– The first tradition is tribe-like politics,
“characterized by a harsh, survivalist
quality and an adherence to certain intense
primordial or kin-group forms of
• Groups are bound together by
solidarity and allegiance to the tribe
takes precedence over the national
• Alliances begin with “the most basic
blood association” of the family and
slowly expand to the tribe (88).
• When a tribe is dishonored, a price
must always be exacted to the furthest
degree. Otherwise, the tribe looks
weak and will be attacked again. The
only way a tribe will make
compromises with another tribe is
“from proven strength or
magnanimity in the wake of victory”
• When the Muslim Brotherhood seized
control of Hama, al-Assad saw it as a
threat to his Alawite tribe and
– The second political tradition in the Middle East is authoritarianism, “the
concentration of power in a single ruler or elite not bound by any
constitutional framework” (91).
• People of the Middle East rarely created nation-states of their own because
various tribe affiliations negated the need for people to rule themselves and
defend themselves against foreign invaders (92).
• Clans and sects would rarely submit and allow themselves to be governed by
others. Rather, when a government was in place, it was usually imposed by sheer
physical force. (92).
• “The ruler was often a stranger: someone to be feared, dreaded, avoided, submitted
to, and, occasionally, rebelled against, but rarely adored; there was usually a
tremendous gulf between the ruler and he society at large” (92).
– Gentle Authoritarianism: A government sustained through negotiation and
less by brute force (92-93).
– Brutal Authoritarianism: A government sustained by beating the population
into submission (94).
“Hama was not just what
happens when two tribe-like
sects – the Alawites and the
Sunnis – decide to have it out;
it was also what happens
when a modern Middle
Eastern autocrat who does not
enjoy full legitimacy among
his people puts down a
challenge to his authority by
weapons without restraint”
– The modern nation-state is another factor in tragedies
such as Hama – most states in the Middle East today
“were not willed into existence by their own people or
developed organically out of a common historical
memory or ethnic or linguistic bond,” but were instead
imposed upon the people of a country (98-99).
• Not only were borders and leaders imposed, political institutions,
too, were forced, often with the imperial powers leaving before
these institutions could fully take root (99).
• The leaders boosted into power by imperial invaders most then
search for ways to legitimize their new governments (100).
• The Hama massacre, then, can be seen as “the natural reaction of
a modernizing politician in a relatively new nation-state trying to
state off retrogressive… elements aiming to undermine
everything he has achieved) (100).
Friedman ends the chapter with an anecdote about
a landlord in Beirut who would not only eat an egg
for breakfast, but also its shell. He closes: “That
was what Hama was all about and that is what
politics in places like Syria, Lebanon, the Yemens,
and Iraq are so often about – men grabbing for the
egg and its shell, because without both they fear
that they may well be dead” (105).
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