• Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

Syria Assad’s comeback after a decade in the cold


Apr 15, 2023

After 12 years of diplomatic isolation, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is being brought back into the fold, with regional powers meeting Friday to discuss readmitting Syria to the Arab League.

AFP looks back at the drive to rehabilitate the Syrian regime, even as the war continues.

2011: International pariah
In November 2011, the 22-member Arab League suspends Syria, a founding member of the body, over the government’s bloody crackdown on anti-government protests.

The league also imposes sanctions on Syria, including a ban on senior Syrian officials travelling to other Arab countries.

The US, most European Union members and several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, later break off ties with Damascus, betting on the regime’s demise.

The US and EU had already imposed several rounds of sanctions, including a weapons embargo.

But Syria maintains a key ally in Russia, which vetoes numerous Security Council resolutions denouncing Assad’s regime.

2018: Gulf outreach
By 2018, with government forces and their allies back in control of much of the country after Russia intervenes to shore up Assad’s regime, several Arab states begin making moves to normalise ties with Damascus.

In December 2018, the United Arab Emirates, a key Saudi ally, reopens its embassy in Damascus, citing the need for the Arab world to counter the “regional expansionism” of Assad ally Iran, at the time an arch-foe of Riyadh.

In October 2021, Jordan’s King Abdullah II holds his first call with Assad since the start of the war.

In March 2022, Assad visits the UAE on his first official visit to an Arab country — and his first to a foreign country other than Russia or Iran — since the war began.

2022: Thaw in Turkey ties
The rapprochement with the Arab world is mirrored by warming ties with neighbouring Turkey.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a fierce opponent of Assad at the outset of the war, arming Syria’s rebels and welcoming millions of refugees.

But as the years pass the two find common ground, with both viewing the US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces who control parts of north and northeast Syria as a threat.

Turkey carries out three ground offensives against the Syrian Kurds between 2016 and 2019, accusing them of backing Kurdish rebels in Turkey, and in late 2022 threatens a fourth.

In December 2022, the Turkish and Syrian defence ministers hold talks with their Russian counterpart in Moscow.

After the talks Erdogan says a meeting with Assad is a possibility.

February 2023: Quake shift
The devastating 6 February, 2023 quake in southern Turkey and northern Syria, which left at least 6,000 Syrians dead, accelerates moves by Arab states to end Syria’s isolation.

Saudi Arabia, which had backed Syria’s rebels in the early stages of the war, sends help to both government- and rebel-held areas.

Lebanon, which had adopted a policy of dissociation, sends its first high-level delegation to Damascus since 2011.

Assad also receives his first call from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who assumed office in 2014 and who sends his foreign minister to Damascus days later.

Assad thanks his “Arab brothers” for their help.

A month later, Saudi Arabia announces that it has started talks with Damascus about resuming consular services.

In early April, Tunisian President Kais Saied announces plans to reopen his country’s embassy in Syria, which says it will reciprocate.

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April 2023: Iran-Saudi reset
A surprise Chinese-brokered rapprochement between longtime rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia in early April adds momentum to Assad’s rehabilitation.

Events move rapidly, with Syria’s foreign minister visiting Riyadh for talks on 12 April, on the same day as an Iranian delegation.

Two days later, representatives of nine Arab states — the six Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan — meet in the Saudi city of Jeddah to discuss readmitting Syria to the Arab League.


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