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What’s behind Syria’s return to the Arab League?


BEIRUT — The Arab League’s choice to re-admit Syria after 12 years of ostracization was a major symbolic victory for Damascus, half of a bigger regional realignment and a sign of the USA’ waning position, analysts say.

However it might not instantly convey the reconstruction {dollars} that Syrian President Bashar Assad is hoping for, they are saying. Neither is it prone to convey the modifications Syria’s neighbors need, reminiscent of an settlement on refugee returns and strikes to scale back drug trafficking.

Syria is returning to the Arab fold although there is no such thing as a signal on the horizon of a decision to the nation’s uprising-turned-civil warfare, now in its thirteenth yr. The long-stalemated battle has killed practically a half million individuals since March 2011 and displaced half of the nation’s pre-war inhabitants of 23 million. A number of makes an attempt to mediate a decision have failed.

The league accredited Syria’s readmission at a closed-door assembly in Cairo on Sunday. It means Assad can attend the league’s summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Could 19, additional cementing his transfer out of pariah standing.


The Arab League is a 22-member group based in 1945 to advertise regional cooperation and resolve disputes. However it’s extensively seen as toothless and has lengthy struggled to implement conflict-resolution efforts, particularly within the latest period of wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya and a bitter diplomatic rift between Gulf monarchies and Qatar years in the past.

The league suspended Syria’s membership in 2011 after Assad’s authorities cracked down brutally on mass protests towards his rule, an rebellion that shortly descended right into a brutal civil warfare. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and several other different Arab nations funneled help to armed opposition teams attempting to overthrow Assad, who was backed by Russia, Iran and militias affiliated with Tehran.

After years of impasse within the warfare, Assad’s authorities has a safe grip on a lot of the nation, notably most primary cities. Opposition teams or U.S.-backed Kurdish forces management most of northern and jap Syria — and that’s unlikely to alter any time quickly — but it surely has been clear for years now that an opposition overthrow of Assad is just about inconceivable.

Arab governments which will have as soon as hoped for that end result are actually deciding it’s higher to succeed in out.

“We’re not on the lookout for magical options, however what we do know is that the present scenario is unsustainable. It’s going nowhere,” Saudi political scientist Hesham Alghannam stated. “We don’t know when the battle will finish, and boycotting the regime didn’t result in an answer.”

In recent times, a number of Arab nations moved in direction of reestablishing diplomatic ties, most notably the United Arab Emirates in 2018. Jordan and Syria reopened their borders in 2021. Final month, Saudi Arabia and Syria introduced they’re shifting to reopen embassies and resume flights.

The devastating Feb. 6 earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey additionally sped up rapprochement, bringing sympathy for Syria. Greater than 6,000 have been killed in Syria and a whole bunch of hundreds misplaced their properties. Senior officers from once-hostile nations visited Damascus for the primary time in over a decade and despatched planeloads of assist.

Approaching Assad below the pretext of the humanitarian disaster was a much less controversial solution to proceed an enhancing of ties that was already underway.

One other increase was the Chinese language-brokered deal to reestablish ties between Saudi Arabia and regional rival Iran, which is encouraging them to de-escalate conflicts like Syria and Yemen.

Additionally, the USA’ “de-prioritization of the Center East and notably of the Syria portfolio” led regional actors to work out their very own offers with Damascus, regardless of Washington’s objections, stated Randa Slim, director of the Battle Decision and Monitor II Dialogues Program on the Washington-based Center East Institute.


Saudi Arabia performed a key position in pushing for Syria’s return to the Arab League, internet hosting a gathering final month to debate the subject. Jordan hosted one other gathering earlier this month.

Qatar remained essentially the most outstanding hold-out. Nevertheless, after Sunday’s choice to readmit Damascus, Qatar stated in a press release that it “won’t be an impediment” to “an Arab consensus.”

Kuwait additionally has not endorsed normalization, stated Bader Al-Saif, assistant professor of historical past at Kuwait College.

“(Kuwait) needs to know what the circumstances are, what the political answer seems like. Will there be elections? An apology? Something?” he stated. Regardless of these key skeptics, al-Saif says Riyadh will proceed to push for Damascus to work for a “extra strong and built-in Arab order.”

One primary criticism of the rapprochement is that Assad has made no concessions towards a political deal to resolve Syria’s battle. And not using a credible decision, hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled overseas — many to neighboring nations — can be too afraid to return.


On the symbolic degree, Syria’s return to the league indicators to opposition Syrians that “they’re left on their very own,” Slim stated, and confirms to Damascus that its scorched-earth technique within the warfare labored.

However on a sensible degree, “a seat on the Arab League will not be that highly effective,” she stated.

U.S. and European sanctions will possible forestall Arab nations from important investments in reconstruction within the close to future.

Many Syrians in government-held areas hope to see a benefit in greater trade with the Arab world to assist to offset a crippling financial disaster.

That might occur, Alghannam stated. “If there may be stability, I consider there can be an inflow of Gulf funding and commerce with Syria.” Nonetheless, he famous, Saudi-Syrian relations have been strained even earlier than the Syrian battle, “so confidence-building will take time.”

A press release issued by the Arab League after Sunday’s assembly urged that Syria’s additional reintegration will rely on shifting in direction of a political answer to the battle, combating drug trafficking and facilitating the return of refugees. Gulf nations have additionally pushed for Damascus to curb Iranian affect in Syria.

Maha Yahya, the director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Center East Middle, stated it’s unlikely that Syria will meet Arab nations’ calls for.

As such, she stated, “I actually don’t suppose this transfer goes to open the floodgates of help for Syria.”


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