On 7 May, the Arab foreign ministers met in an extraordinary session at the Cairo headquarters of the Arab League and agreed to welcome Syria back into the league effective immediately. The meeting was chaired by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.
The ministers adopted Arab League Resolution 8914 in this regard, spelling out its objectives and setting up a ministerial liaison committee comprising Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and the secretary-general of the Arab League.
The committee will liaise with the Syrian government to discuss ways forward in reaching a political resolution to the Syrian crisis, on the one hand, and following up on the implementation of the Amman ministerial meeting that took place on 1 May, on the other. The latter meeting discussed the question of Syria’s resuming its membership of the Arab League after its suspension 12 years ago at the height of what is called the “Arab Spring.”
The Amman meeting was a follow up to another Arab ministerial meeting in Jeddah on the same question of Syria and the Arab League that the Saudi government hosted last April. This meeting was followed by an important visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Ben Farhan to Damascus, where he had held a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
The visit was the first of its kind since 2011, the year that saw the outbreak of what was called at the time the “Syrian Revolution” that later morphed into a Civil War that neither brought “democracy” nor “political diversity” to Syria. Instead, it ironically gave rise to one of the most brutal terrorist organisations in the history of the Islamist movements, the so-called Islamic State group (IS) that brought havoc and destruction to parts of Syria and Iraq from 2013 to 2017.
Back in 2013, former US president Barack Obama while on a visit to Turkey said that “Al-Assad needs to go. He needs to transfer power to a transitional body. That is the only way that we are going to resolve this crisis. And we are going to keep working for a Syria that is free from Al-Assad’s tyranny, inclusive of all ethnic and religious groups, and that’s the source of stability, not extremism.”
Needless to say, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan obliged the US president back then. But little did the two presidents know that their mutual interests in overthrowing the Syrian regime would invite Russia in two years later and would pave the way for more Iranian involvement in Syria.
The same year, 2013, saw the emergence of the Islamic State group and its control of Raqqa in eastern Syria, which it turned into the temporary capital of a so-called “Islamic caliphate.” From there, the group advanced in June 2014 towards Iraq and brought Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, under its sway.
Arab League Resolution 8914 is a balanced text that can be seen as an Arab road map to work with the Syrian government in order to reach a final political resolution of the Syrian crisis through a step-by-step approach and in lockstep with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 of December 2015.
The Arab League Resolution is a step forward that should encourage the Syrian government to work with the UN and the Arab League through the ministerial liaison committee that it has established in order to accelerate the much-hoped-for democratic transition in Syria in a Syrian-owned process. The Arab world will be watching for political concessions on the part of the Syrian government in the context of a UN-led Constitutional Committee.
The secretary-general of the Arab League was right when he said after the adoption of Resolution 8914 that the Syrian crisis would not be solved overnight.
All eyes are now on what steps the Syrian government will take in the days to come before the Arab Summit meeting to be held in Saudi Arabia on 19 May to demonstrate that the reintegration of Syria into the Arab fold will greatly help in advancing the cause of reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis in the context of the Amman ministerial meeting of 1 May and UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
In an official reaction to Resolution 8914, a spokesman for the US State Department said that the US believes that the Syrian government “does not deserve” to retake its seat in the Arab League. But he conceded that the Arab “partners” believe that such a step would facilitate a solution to the Syrian crisis.
In the meantime, he said, which was already significant, that the US administration agreed with the “ultimate objectives” of the resolution, mainly the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
By the adoption of Arab League Resolution 8914, the Arab world has turned a sad page in its contemporary history that has seen instability, insecurity, and widespread misery and destruction spread across the region.
It is now time to rebuild and to transition, gradually and without foreign or regional meddling, to political systems based on the peaceful transition of power, political and religious diversity, and the rule of law.
The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
A version of this article appears in print in the 11 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.