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Arab League unity brings hope for Syria’s regeneration

Syria's President Bashar Assad speaks during the Arab League Summit in Jeddah on May 19, 2023. (Al Ekhbariya TV via REUTERS)
Syria's President Bashar Assad speaks during the Arab League Summit in Jeddah on May 19, 2023. (Al Ekhbariya TV via REUTERS)
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20 May 2023 10:05:26 GMT9
20 May 2023 10:05:26 GMT9

The 2023 Arab League Summit in Jeddah, which takes place on Friday, will involve 22 nations following the readmittance of Syria this month.

King Salman, the host of this year’s summit, offered Syria an invitation via Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Jordan, since the Kingdom does not currently have an ambassador seated in Syria. This turnaround stems from Saudi Arabia’s improved relations with Iran, which has remained an ally of Syria while it was boycotted by the Arab League and many other international players. The decision to overturn Damascus’ suspension was taken by a unanimous vote at a meeting attended by 13 member nations. Qatar, which still strongly opposes the Syrian leadership, notably stayed away from the meeting. It emphasizes that it will not stand in the way of reunification, but insists that Syria strongly tackle the issues that led to the boycott.

This marks significant progress for Syria and is an important moment for the Arab world. The global picture is a complicated one, with wars, conflicts and uneasy peace in many lands, often exacerbated by high fuel costs and interest rates, food shortages and many of the world’s nation’s being close to recession, all on top of the increasing effects of climate change.

It was following the last global economic crisis that the so-called Arab Spring uprisings occurred. And it was partially this that led to serious conflict on the streets of Syria and the devastating civil war that followed, resulting in the suspension of Syria from the Arab League in 2011. It is symbolic that Syria has been welcomed back into the fold at this troubled time, hopefully to avoid further tragedy.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations are forecast to have promising financial years ahead thanks to high oil prices and lucrative deals driven by Western nations’ refusal to buy Russian oil. It is a good time to support our neighbors, broker peace and help them heal following conflict.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq will be part of a committee to work with both the Syrian government and the people to address issues such as poverty, the needs of refugees, combating the $10 billion trade in the illicit drug Captagon, which is manufactured in Syria, and the reconstruction of infrastructure following the recent earthquake and years of bomb damage. Part of this is ensuring that all citizens receive equal aid and support, regardless of what side of the conflict they were on.

It is symbolic that Syria has been welcomed back into the fold at this troubled time, hopefully to avoid further tragedy

Bashayer Al-Majed

The Arab League can hopefully lead mediation discussions to successfully lift the sanctions against Syria, so it can begin to rebuild and reconcile, allowing its citizens to settle and come to terms with their loss and trauma. At the end of the day, this should be about the people. More than half a million people have died in the conflict and more than half of Syria’s population has been displaced, either elsewhere in the country or outside of it.

With so much uncertainty in the world, it seems the right thing to do to welcome Syria back into the Arab fold. The Arab League can use its strength to support this damaged nation and allow its people some security and peace. Peace in any country also brings greater stability for its neighbors; it is good for everyone.

We can only hope that this example will help smooth the waters in other troubled relationships, such as between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Discussions to improve the diplomatic ties between these two powers are on the table as a result of the deal brokered by China. Any improvement in this dynamic will bring strong benefits to other Arab League nations, such as Yemen, Lebanon and Syria. Last month saw some conversations regarding a possible peace deal held between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis in Yemen. There seem to be mixed messages over whether there will be discussions between Iran and Egypt, but hopefully something will be inspired at the summit by these other positive interactions.

Another big topic will be the effect of the violence in Sudan. As well as causing poverty, security issues and food shortages in Sudan itself, this new conflict has a huge impact on Egypt, with which the country shares a border, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which rely on trade routes through the Bab Al-Mandab Strait. The UAE recently funded two strategic ports in Sudan, at great financial cost, indicating the strategic importance of Sudan’s geographic location.

The Arab League responded to a request from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to set up an emergency meeting last month to respond to the violent clashes in Sudan. They called for a ceasefire and peace negotiations between the opposing sides — the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. Arab League leaders have already started working to find a peaceful resolution and, in the meantime, are discussing how to safely evacuate the Sudanese people out of conflict areas. The discussions will no doubt continue. There needs to be a strong focus on the needs of the Sudanese people, ensuring food security for both Egypt and Sudan, as well as access through the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and protecting the ordinary people from violence and looting, the latter of which has included taking blood supplies from hospitals.

So, with the civil conflicts in the region, the tensions between Arab League nations, relations with Russia, China and the West, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the resultant international economic fallout (particularly the grain supply to Yemen and Egypt), the Arab League has a lot to talk about. There are bound to be some lively discussions. Let us hope they are able to resolve at least some of these issues. However, once they are done, there are still the issues of climate change and changing oil use, general economic issues and terrorism to contend with. Peace will definitely help bring some trust and stability to the region so that we can focus on other issues. Let us hope it makes a difference.

  • Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed is a professor of law at Kuwait University, and a visiting fellow at Oxford. Twitter: @Bashayeralmajed
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