Since the beginning of the Arab nationalist movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, Syria has hoisted the banner of Arab nationalism. But after the beginning of civil war in 2011, Syria got diplomatically isolated in the Arab world but dynamics are now changing in Syria’s favour. Recently, President Bashar al-Assad said that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states over the country’s civil war. Assad revealed that Syria and several Arab nations are on the verge of resuming diplomatic relations. This was Assad’s first interview to a Gulf media outlet since the beginning of the civil war. Many Arab countries are rethinking their next steps to deal with the status quo in Syria, coming to the realization that they will have to cope with Assad’s presence at least for the near future. Damascus, too, remains attentive to its changing regional environment and Syrian diplomacy is also eagerly searching for Arab allies.
Let’s have a look at some important Arab state’s rapprochement towards Syria.
The Hashemite kingdom and Syria share a border of more than 385 kilometres. Jordan is one of the few Arab states that refused to cut diplomatic ties with Syria and allowed Syrian embassy to operate in Amman. Recently, the Nasib border crossing between Jordan and Syria was reopened which clearly indicates that Damascus and Amman are looking forward for a deeper engagement.
Doha is under blockade and faces immense pressure from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their allies. Relief comes in the form of supplies flown in from Iran, a staunch ally of Syria. Moreover, Qatar is eager to improve relations with Russia, another ally of Syria.
The most significant indication of a possible shift in Saudi Arabia’s Syria policy was when Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman surprised everyone with his statement: “Bashar is staying.” Saudi Arabia, for a quiet a while now, is seeking to pull Assad into the Arab fold so as to weaken his alliance with Iran.
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Egyptians seem to have come to the reluctant conclusion that ending the conflict is a more pressing need than replacing the Assad regime. They think the destabilizing impact of the war, particularly the rise of ISIS, is more of a concern than the continuation of Iran’s long-established influence in Damascus.
Recently, UAE Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Anwar Gargash said that he regretted Syria’s suspension from the Arab League as it had shut off a major conduit for regional voices in pushing for peace talks and a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Earlier this year, Syria flagship airliner resumed flights to an airport in the emirate of Sharjah in a move that potentially indicated improving trade relations between the two states.
The sultanate is the only Gulf state to have hosted the Syrian envoy even during the civil war. Owing to its unusually good relations with Iran, Oman has maintained amicable relations with the Syrian government.
Kuwaitis have been following their traditional pattern of avoiding participation in external conflicts. Kuwait is also skittish about the Syrian conflict because it does not wish to unnecessarily antagonize its relatively well-assimilated Shia population.
It seems more or less now Arab world is willing to take Syrian into its fold. But Syria now to be fully integrated into Arab world and play a dominant role has to redefine its political approach in the region. President Assad has won the military war but he has to be victorious in another one that’s to reconstruct Syria which can only be achieved by realigning with Arab world.