Anyone who follows Middle Eastern politics today is aware that tribes and tribalism still play an important role in many countries. Half a century ago, few would have anticipated this. But are today’s tribes the same kind of groups as they were then? Have not the tribes too been changed by the revolutionary changes in military and communications technologies and in the nature of world economics, politics and society since the mid- 20th century? This article surveys not merely these changes, but how the term tribe has always been applied to very different kinds of social groups, living in very different kinds of states. An examination of the contrasting histories of tribes in Afghanistan and Iran shows how, in a situation of conflict and insecurity, tribalism retains important ‘survival value’ for the people, but where the state is strong, tribes are likely to survive, if at all, as tourist attractions.