Syria rejoins Arab League, Assad expected in Jeddah on Friday

DUBAI (Reuters) – Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit on Wednesday formally welcomed Syria’s reinvestment in the bloc, which was suspended in 2011 because of its crackdown on the uprising against Bashar al-Assad.

The strongman from Damascus will taste his return to his comrades on Friday at the 32nd league summit in Jeddah, where he will face leaders from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar that have supported the Syrian rebellion for years.

Its foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, is already in Jeddah for preparatory meetings. He spoke with his Jordanian, Emirati and Lebanese counterparts.

The head of Lebanese diplomacy, Abdullah Bou Habib, said he discussed with him the issue of the return of Syrian refugees and the fight against trafficking in Captagon, a synthetic drug of which Syria has become a hub.

These two questions are at the center of months-long talks between Damascus and other Arab countries on the reunification of Syria.

Some states, such as Qatar or Kuwait, have expressed their opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s rehabilitation, but the Jeddah summit should underline the extent to which Doha has scaled down its ambition to play a major diplomatic role in the region. Has done, Saudi Arabia except role motor.

Syria is not the only thorny issue within the League, which is divided over the question of normalization with Israel, through support for the Palestinians, over the regional role of Damascus’s allies Turkey or Iran.

The conflict in Sudan should also form a good part of the discussions in Jeddah, where representatives of the belligerents are present. Saudi Arabia has been hosting talks aimed at ending the ceasefire for weeks.

The Saudi kingdom, which recently made a promising diplomatic rapprochement with Tehran, wants to show the international community that Arab countries are working together to counterbalance the great powers.

“This helps Riyadh not only within the Middle East but also beyond, when it comes to dealing with the United States, Europe or China,” says Abdullah Babad, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo.

The war in Syria and other conflicts such as those in Yemen or Libya are all challenges to the unity of the Arab countries, whose leaders nevertheless agree on the need to ensure security above all, even to the detriment of democracy.

“In recent years, there has been a desire on the part of Saudi Arabia and other regional actors to consolidate a form of authoritarian stability in the region,” said Professor Joseph Dehr of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

“Despite the endless rivalry between the countries (…), they hold a common position in their desire to return to the situation as it was before the 2011 uprising.”

(Reporting by Aziz Al Yacoubi, Claude Tanios, Maya Gebelli, Tom Perry, French edition Edited by Jean-Stéphane Brosse, Kate Enstringer)

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