Arab League Assad
Foto: SANA, Syrian Presidency

Assad is back. Syria part of the Arab League again

Syria’s President Assad is back in the Arab League. This was decided by the organisation in May.

ISLAMIC TIMES – The Middle East and the wealthy states of the Arabian Peninsula have undergone a strategic shift in parts of their foreign policy in recent years. Following the reorientation of US planning that began under President Obama, they increasingly turned to powers such as Russia and China.

Assad back in the Arab League – sign of power shift

Moscow wants to sell them weapons, and Beijing has long been the biggest buyer of Arab oil as well as the most important supplier of finished products and services.

In March, news from Beijing made people sit up and take notice. The foreign ministry there announced the negotiation of a rapprochement between the regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. This raises hopes that the devastating proxy war in Yemen will come to an end.

The shifts in power and influence in the Middle East suggest that the United States will share its position as a power of order in the region with others in the future.

Another piece in the mosaic was the Arab League summit in Jeddah on 19 and 20 May. Its main decision had been negotiated in advance on 7 May: the return of Syria to the organisation. On 9 May, President Al-Assad received his invitation to attend the meeting. Damascus was suspended in 2011 at the instigation of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Part of the package of Arab foreign ministers agreed in early May are the “voluntary repatriation” of Syrian refugees as well as a “national reconciliation.” As before, Beijing had been working on a climate change in relations here.

On 19 May, the heads of state and government of the Arabic-speaking countries met in the Saudi port city of Jeddah to seal the pre-negotiated decisions and put them into corresponding language arrangements. The summit ended with a declaration in which members reaffirmed the need for economic coordination, measures to ensure national security and routinely the Palestinian crisis.

League leaders see no problems

At a subsequent press conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Farhan and League Secretary General Abu al-Gheit emphasised the key points agreed upon. Responding to a question on Syria’s return, Abu al-Gheit reiterated that the decision was an internal Arab matter.

The Saudi minister said, “We will discuss relations with Syria with our Western partners.” He added that efforts would be made to help Syrian refugees return home.

Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammad Bin Salman Al-Saud met with the Syrian president on the side-lines of the summit. The long-excluded head of state spoke himself. He stressed the need to develop League systems and mechanisms. In addition, foreign intervention in Arab affairs must be stopped. He was silent about his regime’s military alliance with Russia and Iranian actors.

As he entered the meeting venue, a beaming Assad extended his arms to the crown prince, who took them both and kissed him once on each cheek. It was a symbolic moment that sealed his reintegration into the Arab community after more than a decade of suspension and isolation from most countries in the region for suppressing protests.

Foto: Zerophoto, Adobe Stock

Disgust among exiled Syrians

Syrian exiles, critical observers and human rights activists reacted with disgust but not surprise to the decisions. On 17 May, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) deplored Syria’s readmission to the League. The Assad regime did not have to make any concessions. Exactly twelve years ago, Syrians took to the streets for democracy, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press. Instead, they received a destroyed country.

“About 600,000 people have been killed, 80 per cent of the population live in poverty and 12 million people are on the run inside and outside the country. In addition, there have been and still are terrible crimes against the population, for which the regime and its allies in Russia and Iran are responsible,” explained STP Middle East expert Dr Kamal Sido.

Normalisation with Assad would make it more difficult for Syrian refugees to return, said Muhi Aldeen, whose husband disappeared at the hands of the government in 2014. “I would say two words we took as an oath: We would rather die than be ruled by Al-Assad, and we will not return as long as Al-Assad is there.”

For Akil Hosain (39), a Syrian journalist in France, the Arab League is a symbol of the time before the “Arab Spring.” Therefore, Assad’s readmission does not come as a surprise. “Our surprise was that this move was made in a very direct way; on the edge of audacity, if you will,” Hosain said.

* Using material from KUNA and MEMO (CCL).

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