Bashar al-Assad must get support of the other important Arab states which can help Syria stand on its feet again.
[Manish Rai | Oped Column Magazine]
Syria has long been an important centre for pan-Arab ideas in modern times and has been considered as the heart of Arabism. Since the beginning of the Arab nationalist movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, Syria has hoisted the banner of Arab nationalism. But after the beginning of civil war in 2011, Syria became diplomatically isolated in the Arab world. However, dynamics are again changing now in favour of Syria’s [Assad regime].
Recently, [Syrian dictator] Bashar al-Assad told a Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility over the country’s civil war. Assad reveals that Syria and several Arab nations are on the verge of resuming diplomatic relations.
Worth noting, this is the first interview that Assad has given to a Gulf media since the beginning of the civil war.
Now that the civil war is almost over, many Arab countries are now courting the [Assad regime]. Arab states are rethinking their next steps to deal with the status quo in Syria, coming to the realization that they will have to cope with the presence of Bashar al-Assad in Syrian equation at least for the near future.
Moreover, the [regime] remains attentive to the changing regional environment and it too is eagerly searching for Arab allies.
Let’s have a look at some important Arab state’s rapprochement towards the [regime].
Jordan, the Hashemite kingdom, shares a border of more than 385 kilometres with Syria and is one of the few Arab states that refused to cut off its diplomatic ties with [Assad regime] and allowed the [regime]’s embassy to operate in Amman. Recently, the Nasib border crossing between Jordan and Syria was also reopened — something that clearly suggests that [Assad regime] and Amman are looking forward for more deeper engagement.
The Qatari [monarchy] has communicated to both [Iranian regime] and Russia, which are allies of the [Assad regime], that it is willing to tolerate Assad in Syria. The monarchy – which is under blockade and faces immense pressure from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their allies – already receives relief in the form of supplies flown in from Iran. Further, the monarchy is eager to improve relations with Russia too.
The region’s most important power, Saudi Arabia, also hinted a possible shift in its ‘Syria policy’ when Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, popularly known as MBS, made a surprising statement to Time magazine that Assad is staying and that Saudi Arabia had been seeking to pull Assad into the Arab fold so that it can weaken Assad’s alliance with the [Iranian regime].
Egypt seems to have come to the reluctant conclusion that ending the Syrian conflict is a more pressing need than replacing the [Assad regime]. They think that the destabilizing impact of the war, particularly the rise of ISIS, is more of a concern than the continuation of the [Iranian regime]’s long-established influence in Syria. Hence, Cairo looks more tolerant towards Assad.
In a statement to the prominent Middle East newspaper “The National”, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) Minister of State for Gulf Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said that he regretted Syria’s suspension from the Arab League, as it had shut off a major conduit for regional voices in pushing for peace talks and a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Earlier this year, Syria’s flagship airliner resumed flights to an airport in the emirate of Sharjah — a move which suggests improving trade relations between the two states.
The Sultanate of Oman is the only Arabian Gulf state to have hosted the [Assad regime]’s envoy even during the civil war. Oman’s unusually good relations with the [Iranian regime], one of Assad’s close allies — had led the sultanate maintain an amicable relations with the [Assad regime].
Kuwait has been following their traditional pattern of avoiding participation in external conflicts. Kuwait is also skittish about the Syrian conflict due to its unwillingness to unnecessarily antagonize its relatively well-assimilated Shia population.
The Arab world currently appears willing to take the [Assad regime] into its fold. But [Assad] now has to redefine his political approach in the region in order to make Syria, under his rule, fully integrated into the Arab world and play a dominant role. Assad has to decide whether Syria, under his rule, would act as an independent country or as an Iranian satellite-state in the Arab world.
The ‘reconstruction’ of the war-torn country is, for now, a much-desired dream for a [regime] controlling such a country that lost 75% of its GDP [due to the civil war]. Assad’s backers, [including Iranian regime and Russia], do not have the necessary resources for more than a subsistence recovery. Instead, these backers are already looking for their share of what’s left of Syrian economy.
Hence, it becomes more important for Bashar al-Assad to get support of the other important Arab states which can help Syria, the country that he controls, stand on its feet again. Although Assad has won the military war, the country’s reconstruction – the only way forward after the war ends – can only be achieved by realigning with the Arab world.
Manish Rai is a columnist for Middle East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geopolitical news agency Viewsaround.