The 32nd Arab League Summit held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia succeeded in bringing an end to a twelve-year stalemate in relations with Syria, as President Bashar Al Assad made a return and took his seat at the league.
While some view the return of al-Assad as a positive step towards Arab unity which could lead to measures that can end the destruction and conflict in Syria, others find this return to be a sign of failure and utmost disregard to the oppression and brutality shown by the Assad regime towards the people of Syria.
The Arab league summit is considered to be a remarkable event as it brought many issues to the table, starting with strengthening relations among neighbouring states and ending conflicts.
Bashar al-Assad’s return
Steps towards unity and peace should be viewed as positive, and although Syria’s return is hugely positive as it affects the people of Syria, the Assad regime has not been held accountable for any of its actions: For the destruction, for the extra judicial killings, for the torture and for the millions of lives that were terribly affected.
Hezbollah and Iranian TV channels are promoting Assad’s return to the Arab League as a victory, but for this step to mean anything, Assad must now make meaningful steps towards reconciliation, ending the conflict, allowing refugees to return safely and rebuilding. He should not expect a warm welcome from Arab nations unless he shows that he has learnt from the last 12 years and shows that he can offer something for his people other than just brutality.
Arab states need to see Assad taking measures to allow the safe return of refugees – this is particularly important for states like Jordan and Lebanon which have struggled to host millions of refugees.
If Assad continues smuggling millions of tablets of Captagon and other drugs to Arab states he will quickly find doors closed on him again. Syria can either be part of the Arab world, or an isolated narco-state. It can’t be both.
In his opening remarks Assad found an opportunity to criticize Israel while failing to acknowledge his regime’s responsibility for possibly more death and disaster to Arabs than Israel has had in the past few decades.
He stressed that Israel is isolated while Israel succeeded in its diplomacy by gaining four more Arab states as its friends during the past few years while the Assad regime was the one in complete isolation from its Arab neighbors. Drawing attention away from the atrocities caused by his regime and towards Israel and the Palestinian issue is nothing but a desperate measure to gain the sympathy of Arab citizens.
Assad then went on to stress on preventing foreign intervention in the domestic affairs of Arab countries, once again failing to acknowledge the huge support he received from the Islamic Republic to crush his people. Hence, will the Assad regime stand by its values and change direction as it rejoins its Arab “brothers”?
The Assad regime is largely responsible for more than 500,000 documented deaths and the displacement of around 7 million people during the past decade due to the Syrian civil war.
Engaging with the regime in Syria will certainly have positive outcomes for the people of Syria, however it also is a double-edged sword that strengthens a brutal dictator who has done severe damage to his country and to humanity. Syria’s return to the Arab league should not just be a superficial return, Arab states were certainly incapable of holding the Assad regime accountable, however they can work towards ending the conflict and creating some form of change.
Saudi Arabia is making commendable efforts to end its conflict with other nations such as Iran and now Syria. It is taking a lead in being the true center of the Arab and Islamic world, it has realized that it cannot do so while its conflicts are ongoing.
These are all positive measures expected by the leader of the region. The steps taken by Saudi Arabia to bring Arab leaders together and set differences aside is a reassurance that Saudi Arabia is now more focused on development and it perhaps wants to spread its excellence in the field of development to the region. Saudi Arabia has taken unprecedented steps towards social and economic development that have left the world stunned. All these measures have certainly resulted in Saudi Arabia’s prominence in the region and as a major diplomatic player in the Middle East and the world.
The United States
Another implication of Bashar al Assad’s return is the complete absence of the Biden administration as a deal broker. During the past decade, the US has failed to bring an end to the Syrian conflict or to bring the Arab states closer.
This in turn is viewed by many as a reflection of the ability of Arab states to work together in bringing an end to their differences without America’s involvement, as the Biden administration once again fails to be a major diplomatic player in the region.
President Zelensky’s presence at the Arab league reiterates Saudi Arabia’s efforts to bring peace not just to the Middle East but to the world. As the Gulf and most Arab countries have strong relations with Russia, most Arab states remained nonaligned in the Russia-Ukraine war while providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. In his address to the Arab league President Zelensky stressed over the importance of ending the Russian invasion of Ukraine and called on the Arab world to protect the Ukranian people including Ukranian Muslims, while stating that some Arab nations have turned a blind eye to the war, namely Syria.
In his address to the Arab league, the King of Bahrain welcomed the recent agreement between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Bahrain has also announced that it will reinstate its Ambassador to Lebanon, following years of lowering diplomatic representation and recalling its Ambassador.
Spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states are certainly moving into an era of ending their conflicts. Peace remains to be a key factor in the development of nations. We hope for peace among Arab states, within Arab states and with all our neighbors as long as peace is taken seriously.