President Bashar al-Assad, Photo source: Sana.sy
Over the past few months, there has been a surge of diplomatic endeavours in the Middle East, which includes an effort by certain nations within the region to establish normalized relations with Syria. A number of Arab nations have endeavoured to reintegrate the conflict-ridden nation into their collective with the aim of ameliorating historical grievances and re-establishing stability in the region. The current geopolitical landscape of global politics has led to a noteworthy diplomatic advancement in the Middle East, as evidenced by the decision.
At an emergency meeting held in Cairo on May 7, 2023, Arab foreign ministers cast their votes in favour of the reinstatement of Syria’s membership, thereby indicating a burgeoning momentum in the ongoing efforts towards reconciliation with Damascus. Syria has been reintegrated into the Arab fold by regional powers, with measures such as the restoration of diplomatic relations and high-level visits, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia.
Conversely, the act of reinstating Syria’s membership in the Arab League was met with resistance from certain Arab nations and was viewed with doubt by the United States and Europe. However, Iran received it with approval as a component of a more extensive regional restructuring.
Why this is a significant diplomatic breakthrough?
The determination pertaining to re-admittance carries significant weight from multiple standpoints and is unquestionably a distinctive diplomatic accomplishment, particularly given the recent geopolitical shifts in worldwide politics. The contemporary geopolitical terrain is distinguished by the participation of substantial international group of actors, including Russia, USA, the West, and China, in a complex and ornate setting that evokes memories of the Cold War. On the contrary, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the current global economic and energy crisis have curtailed the projected global growth. Moreover, the crisis in Sudan has incited a new surge of tension in the Arabian Peninsula.
Therefore, the cumulative effect of these strategic fragmentations and activities has led to a substantial vacuum in the Middle Eastern region. In the contemporary global context, notable entities such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey have assumed a leadership role in the Middle East, thereby establishing a distinctive standing for the region. The reinstatement of Syria into the Arab League is a noteworthy diplomatic accomplishment, as it presents a viable approach for the Arab League to address the ongoing Syrian conflict and serve as the protector of the Arab region.
Moreover, the shift from the Arab nations underscored the need for intra-regional cooperation across the entire region. The significance of inter-state collaboration in countering external influences within a given region cannot be overstated. Moreover, the Arabian region has become a pivotal point of concern for Western nations in recent decades. The Middle East region has witnessed substantial geopolitical intervention from non-Arab countries, particularly following the events of 9/11, Arab spring and the emergence of the ISIS crisis. In recent decades, external powers have undertaken diverse military operations and engagements in the region.
However, the present redirection of Western attention towards the Indo-Pacific region and the persistent strife in Ukraine have created a prospect for Arab nations to rejuvenate their respective states. Hence, the reintegration of Syria is an essential element of this process of rejuvenation.
Thirdly, the decision to refuse readmission to Syria carries multiple implications and facets for various groups. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)’s recent decision to restore diplomatic relations with Syria offers valuable insight into the modified course of Saudi Arabia’s regional foreign policy. The current strategy employed by Riyadh can be concisely encapsulated through the utilization of three key concepts: de-escalation, economic cooperation, and pragmatism.
Moreover, Riyadh has recently taken the lead in promoting the Arab consensus by following in the footsteps of the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman, all of which had already restored diplomatic ties with Damascus. Hence, the process of readmission and the provision of support by KSA are indicative of its support for other Arab nations.
Conversely, Qatar is the sole country that continues to refuse to re-establish diplomatic relations with Syria. The stance of the United States towards the Assad government has become increasingly critical, a position that is expected to garner support from the US.
Fourthly, the normalization of relations with the Assad government has been a crucial objective for some, if not all, Arab nations, who have sought to reintegrate Syria into the Arab community while simultaneously detaching it from Iran. During the previous decade, there has been a noteworthy proliferation of Tehran’s military, economic, and political affiliations with Damascus. Iran has successfully established a robust presence in strategically significant areas surrounding Syria. Iran’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has incurred substantial expenses. Tehran encountered a state of seclusion both on a global and regional scale.
Hence, the reinstatement of Syria into the Arab League ought to be viewed as a constituent of the broader reorganization of the regional security and economic structure, in light of the recent de-escalation of hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the increased diplomatic engagement of authorities in the Gulf area.
It is noteworthy that the United States and the European Union maintain an unfavourable position regarding the recent reintegration of Syria into the Arab League, as they assert that Syria is not meritorious of such a restoration. The party in question has made it clear that they do not wish to establish normalized relations with the Syrian government given the current circumstances. The lack of progress in initiating a political process based on UN Resolution 2254 can be attributed to the government in Damascus’ failure to make concessions or demonstrate engagement in said process. Hence, the act of admission served as a demonstration of the waning hegemony of the United States’ power in the international system. Nevertheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that Syria does not occupy a prominent position on the foreign policy agenda of Washington.
Hence, it is crucial to acknowledge that regardless of the result of this re-entry, it fails to adequately tackle the profound suffering experienced by the populace of Syria. The affluent Arab nations bear a responsibility to undertake measures aimed at normalizing the situation in Syria, rather than exacerbating the adversities, for the betterment of the destitute Syrian populace and the global community at large. From this perspective, the process of readmission appears to communicate a message of alleviating the challenges encountered by the Syrian populace and advancing towards a feasible resolution to the persistent issue.
Despite the diplomatic significance of Syria’s reinstatement to the Arab League, it is crucial to prioritize the pressing requirements of humanitarian assistance, reconstruction endeavours, and sustained stability within the nation. It is imperative for the international community and Arab world to remain cognizant of the predicament faced by the Syrian populace, who have been subjected to significant distress and displacement due to the persistent hostilities.
To summarize, the ultimate outcome of Syria’s reinstatement into the Arab League highlights the reluctance of global actors to provide Arab countries with the opportunity to shape their own future. The decision may be interpreted as a signal to the global community regarding the resurgence of a self-governing Arab foreign policy and the demonstration of solidarity, collaboration, and interdependence. Nonetheless, this statement serves as a prompt to emphasize the importance of prioritizing the welfare of the Syrian populace and the pressing necessity for a holistic resolution that mitigates their distress and establishes enduring tranquillity. The affluent Arab nations possess a crucial responsibility in furnishing assistance, aid, and resources to alleviate the adversities encountered by Syrians and facilitate a trajectory towards a more favourable outcome. It is crucial for the global community to maintain its focus on the Syrian populace and strive towards a viable resolution to their ongoing predicament.
About the author:
S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Associate at the KRF Centre for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA), Dhaka, Bangladesh