The reintegration of Syria

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 4 Apr 2023

Syria may be invited to attend the next Arab Summit meeting in Saudi Arabia in May with a view to its proper reintegration back into the Arab fold, writes Hussein Haridy


In June 2012, then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi announced the severing of Egypt’s diplomatic relations with Syria before a huge gathering fewer than 48 hours after a tweet issued by the late preacher Youssef Al-Qaradawi in which he requested the Egyptian government to take this step.

In parallel with this highly regrettable decision, Morsi asked the Egyptian Military to train recruits in the rag-tag “Free Syrian Army,” in reality nothing but a Muslim Brotherhood armed militia.

The misplaced fervour to install Islamist regimes in two key Arab powers, Egypt and Syria, reached a high point in 2012 when western, regional, and Arab support for the so-called Syrian Revolution was at its height. Turkey had hosted meetings of the intelligence services of some Western countries in addition to their Arab counterparts with a view to providing arms to the armed militias in Syria to help them topple the Syrian government.

Eleven years later, and after a decade that saw the successful overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt in June-July 2013 and then the direct military intervention in Syria to bolster the Syrian government in September 2015, the Middle East is now a different place. The enemies and adversaries of yesterday have opted for the return of the status quo ante before the autumn of the Arab world that started in 2011 and lasted until the Arab Summit meeting in Algiers last November that finally met after a hiatus of three years.

The Arab League Charter stipulates that regular Arab Summits should convene once a year. The three years in which there was no summit meeting should be seen as the result of the Arab world crossing a treacherous and dangerous decade in which the very concept of the nation-state was threatened by foreign-backed Islamists of every stripe, from those who claimed that they eschewed violence, like the Muslim Brotherhood, to those that did not, like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group.

From the second half of 2013 until 2017, the so-called “Islamic State” group held sway in a vast expanse of territory that stretched from the eastern part of Syria to areas north of the Iraqi capital and to Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Had the Syrians and the Russians not agreed on military cooperation in 2015, Syria would also most probably have fallen into the hands of a terrorist organisation.

But Syria withstood the threats and fought back, notwithstanding UN Security Council Resolution 2254 of December 2015 that outlines a road map for the establishment of a democratic government in the country. Its return to the Arab fold has taken three more years to take hold in Arab minds, however, after the suspension of Syria from the Arab League at an Arab summit meeting in 2012 that was a serious miscalculation by those Arab delegations that voted for it.

History, geography, and the winds of change on three levels, the international, the regional, and the Arab, have now pushed for a reassessment of Arab political and diplomatic relations with Syria. The change has been so marked that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has visited the UAE three times in a year, in addition to his official visit to Oman a few weeks ago.

The most interesting recent development has been the restoration of Saudi consular services in Damascus and, on the basis of reciprocity, Syrian consular services in Saudi Arabia last week. This was a welcome decision that came after the Chinese-brokered agreement on 10 March between Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume their diplomatic relations, severed in early 2016, after a period of two months.

What is even more interesting is the strong possibility that Syria will be invited to attend the next regular Arab Summit meeting in Saudi Arabia in May. If this happens, it would not be an overstatement to say that it will represent a watershed in inter-Arab politics with far-reaching regional ramifications. It will result in the rebalancing of regional relations.

On 1 April, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Maqdad paid a visit to Cairo where he held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri who had previously visited Syria in the wake of the devastating earthquake in February and held a meeting with the Syrian president.

It will not come as a surprise if Egypt and Syria announce the resumption of their bilateral diplomatic relations in the next few weeks prior to the next Arab Summit meeting in Saudi Arabia. This will also be a prelude to righting the destabilising and historic wrong of suspending Syria from the Arab League. In all honesty, Egypt should have opposed this decision or at least abstained from it.

Re-establishing diplomatic relations between Cairo and Damascus and inviting Syria to retake its lawful seat at the Arab League will represent the official demise, long-awaited, of the autumn of the Arabs that has now spanned more than ten years.

It is about time that the Arabs begin to find Arab solutions to Arab crises and roll back the regional and international meddling of every sort in Arab affairs.

The writer is former assistant foreign minister.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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