Assad in limelight at Arab League summit

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will make his major return to the Arab diplomatic scene on Friday during a summit in Saudi Arabia that should also look at the conflicts in Sudan and Yemen.

Arriving Thursday evening in the coastal city of Jeddah, on the Red Sea, Bashar al-Assad will attend his first meeting of the Arab League in more than a decade.

The Pan-Arab organization expelled the Syrian regime in late 2011 for its suppression of a popular uprising, which turned into a devastating war, before being reinstated on 7 May.

The United Arab Emirates, which reestablished its ties with Syria in 2018, has been particularly active in getting Damascus re-admitted to the group.

The Syrian regime has also benefited from an increase in solidarity following the earthquake, which devastated large parts of Syria and Turkey on 6 February.

– “Redesigned” map –

The pro-Syrian government newspaper Al-Watan said that Assad was expected to meet “several leaders in bilateral meetings” during his trip to Jeddah.

The summit comes in a context of heightened regional tensions, marked by a rapprochement in recent months between the Saudi kingdom and its great regional rival Iran. Riyadh also recently restored consular services with Damascus.

The host of the meeting, Saudi Arabia, is also deploying diplomatic efforts to try to find a solution to the regional conflicts.

A resident of Damascus receives Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Jeddah on the eve of the Arab League summit on May 18, 2023.

This is the case of Yemen, which has been mired in war for more than eight years and where it backs the government against the Houthi rebels backed by Tehran.

The wealthy Gulf monarchy has also played a major role in evacuating thousands of civilians from Sudan, the scene of deadly fighting for a month, and welcoming representatives of the belligerents to talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire.

Saudi Arabia has “in the eyes of all observers become a peacemaker (…) calling for an end to differences and conflicts”, said Kuwaiti commentator Jawad Ahmed Bukhamsen in an op-ed published this week in the Saudi daily Okaz. written.

In addition to conflicts in the Middle East, the Arab League’s 32nd summit should tackle more international topics such as the war in Ukraine and the “global economic crisis”, Asharq al-Awsat Khaled Manzalawi, deputy secretary-general for political affairs of the Arab League, wrote in the newspaper. .

“The world is passing through a dangerous period in history at a time when the map of international relations is being redrawn,” he said, believing that the unity of Arab countries “is their voice not only in the region , but can be heard all over the world.” World”.

– “Internal Disagreement” –

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy and the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, has recently strengthened its ties with China and coordinated its oil policy with Russia, while with the United States Has maintained a close relationship, which is a long-standing partner in security.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (left) meets with his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied ahead of an Arab League summit in Jeddah on May 18, 2023 (PPO/AFP - Thar Ghanaim).
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (left) meets with his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied ahead of an Arab League summit in Jeddah on May 18, 2023 (PPO/AFP – Thar Ghanaim).

The Arab League recently stressed the need to play a “leading role” in brokering a settlement in Syria. Although the fighting is almost over, nearly half a million people have been killed in the war, as well as millions of refugees and displaced.

Syria, for its part, is betting on full normalization with Arab countries, especially the Gulf’s rich monarchies, in order to finance the country’s costly reconstruction.

Countries such as Qatar, which have staunchly opposed President Assad since the start of the war in Syria, have been very reluctant to approach Damascus.

For Saudi Arabia, the summit will be successful if it leads to concrete commitments from Damascus on issues such as the return of refugees and the smuggling of captagons — of which Syria is one of the main exporters — according to Torbjörn Soltvet of Risk Intelligence firm Verisk. Maplecroft.

But Arab League summits “are often characterized by internal disagreement and indecision”, he recalled. “So the bar is not very high.”

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