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3-digit tribal codes in Saudi Arabia

10 March, 2008

I don’t quite know what to make of this interesting news item from Arab News, one of Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspapers, but since it’s about “tribes,” as an anthropologist I feel like I should be paying attention!

Saudi ‘Tribal Codes’ Draw Mixed Response
Ali Al-Zahrani, Arab News

RIYADH, 7 March 2008 — Increasingly, young Saudis are using three-digit numeric codes to indicate their tribal affiliations. Among the codes used by them to identify the tribes they originate from are 511, 505, 502, 707, 711, 501 and 111.

The code is aimed at others who know how the numbers translate.

The numbers indicate the number-bearer’s tribe and, by implication, where his loyalty lies.

These numbers are showing up in school, cars and in graffiti.

Some students claim that the trend started in the Eastern Province when locals distinguished others by their areas of residence inside public housing complexes in Al-Jubail Industrial area. Saudis from a certain tribe would be often found in a certain area with a three-digit code similar to a zip code in the US. The location code then evolved into a code for particular tribes.

“I really do not know where these codes came from. I only learned of it now when I saw the codes glued to the windows of my big brother’s car,” said Al-Qahtani.

–L.L. Wynn

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