Syria's President Bashar Assad greets on Sunday Feb. 26, 2023 a delegation of Arab lawmakers which had participated in the Conference of Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and wrapped its activities a day earlier in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Photo courtesy of Syrian Arab News Agency SANA
Speaker of Egypt's House of Representatives Hanafy El-Gebaly is the most senior Egyptian official to visit Syria in over a decade after most Arab countries cut ties with Al-Al-Assad. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 after Al-Assad's government cracked down on mass protests against his rule — an uprising that quickly descended into a brutal civil war.
El-Gebaly told reporters after landing in Damascus that the Arab delegation was "visiting brotherly Syria to support the Syrian people" after the quake. He cited the joint statement from the Baghdad meeting about the need to begin the process of "bringing Syria back to the Arab fold.”
"Naturally, Syria will return someday, God willing, and matters will return to what they once were," he said.
In recent years, several Arab countries have moved to reestablish ties with Al-Assad. This process intensified following the massive Feb. 6 earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria and killed over 47,000 people, including over 1,400 people in government-controlled areas of Syria and more than 2,400 in the rebel-held northwest. The quake further compounded Syria's deep economic crisis.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are among the U.S. allies in the Middle East that delivered earthquake aid to government-held areas in Syria. In addition, the United Arab Emirates sent more aid-loaded planes than any other nation, including Syria's key allies, Russia and Iran.
"The UAE was among the first countries that stood with Syria and sent huge relief and humanitarian aid and search and rescue teams," Al-Assad said during a meeting in Damascus with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Sheikh Abdullah had already met with Al-Assad months earlier during his second visit to Damascus on 4 January, where they discussed boosting economic ties between their nations.
Sheikh Abdullah’s visit comes ten months after Al-Assad paid a rare visit to the UAE — his first in several years to a foreign country other than his allies Russia and Iran.
In the same vein, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi reiterated in a phone call with the Syrian President Egypt’s solidarity with Syria and its brotherly people in the current calamity and that he would direct all possible aid to the country.
The Syrian president expressed his appreciation to El-Sisi for his kind gesture, stressing “Syria’s pride in the historical and fraternal relations” between the two countries.
Similarly, in a sign of warming ties, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud said a little over a week ago at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) 2023 that dialogue with Damascus was necessary "at some point," Reuters reported.
"You will see not just among the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) but in the Arab world that there is a consensus growing that the status quo is not workable," he added.
The minister's remarks signal a shift in Arab attitudes toward Al-Assad's government which, during the early years of Syria's 12-year civil war, was made a pariah by the international community.
With the war mostly stalemated in recent years and after Al-Assad regained control over much of Syria's territory thanks to military assistance from Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, Arab countries have inched closer toward restoring ties with the Syrian leader.
In June, Bahrain named its complete diplomatic mission to Syria in over a decade. During a visit to Damascus last July, Algeria's top diplomat said his nation, alongside other Arab countries, was coordinating to restore Syria's Arab League membership. Al-Assad also had a call with Jordan's King Abdullah II in October 2021.