Bashar al-Assad sent a message to the whole world that he is ready for a new stage. The world is not what it was ten years ago. At the regional level, the Arabs are considering accepting the existing reality, but at the global level, the Syrian question is not a priority, writes the expert of the Valdai Club Ruslan Mamedov.
In the presidential elections of May 26, Bashar al-Assad won over 95% of the vote. Under the current constitution, this term will be the last for the president. But over the next seven years of Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the constitution could change, and it is far from certain that this will happen thanks to the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, with the mediation of the UN. The victory of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was accompanied by congratulations from the allies and a lack of recognition of the election results by Western countries. Anyway, what is the attitude towards this war-torn country and its ruling elites in the Arab world? Will Bashar al-Assad be able to rebuild the country and get it out of chaos?
Forget about old resentments. From the balance of power to the balance of interests
It is through regional recognition that the path to global recognition is found. It is needed in one form or another for the reconstruction of Syria, which is estimated to cost more than $ 250 billion. Syria’s allies do not have such funds, and the West ties the provision of funds for the reconstruction of the country to the terms of a political settlement of the conflict, which the current authorities will not accept. In the absence of economic reconstruction, however, there is a threat of reactivation of defeated terrorists. In this context, the role of the rich oil monarchies of the Persian Gulf – the most promising source of money – becomes particularly important.
Syria is traditionally called the “heart” of the Arab world. However, this did not prevent other Arab countries from responding to the violence that was unfolding in Syria by freezing its membership in an important regional structure, the Arab League, in 2011. Speaking of Syria’s return to the Arab League, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “Arab diplomacy is very, very famous for its efficiency, so it seems to me that here we can expect the problem to be solved, and hopefully fast enough.” However, there are a number of factors that can support this process and constraints that can hinder it.
The conversation about returning Syria to the Arab League has been going on for several years – since it became clear that Bashar al-Assad will be able to keep power in his hands. This became evident to regional and global actors with the defeat of terrorists and the opposition, with the active support of the Syrian leaders of Iran and Russia. Moreover, compared to 2011, the situation has changed in the Arab League itself. In Egypt, the largest country in the Arab world, the secular regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (which has roots in the military), is now in power, and not the anti-Assad Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood (banned in Russian Federation). A number of Arab League member states like Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon have never been against Syria and are now actively advocating its return to the organization. The Gulf monarchies have gone through a decade of reassessing challenges and threats.
The conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have led to the strengthening of regional rivals of the Gulf Arab states – Turkey and Iran. The expansion of these great regional powers is forcing the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to seek new approaches. In the context of Syria, this means the Arab rejection of the Turkish occupation of Syrian (and therefore Arab) lands in northern Syria. At the same time, the leaders of the Arabian Peninsula are questioning whether it is worth pushing Syria into Iran’s hands, if they can try to return it to the “Arab homeland” and balance the influence. Iranian over Damascus. The UAE, Bahrain and Oman have already reopened their embassies in Damascus, but so far Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two key countries that oppose Syria in the Arab League, are in no rush. to do the same. In any case, the Saudis are increasingly inclined to a partial return of relations. This is evident from some of their actions. For example, we are talking about the restoration of ties between Bahrain and Damascus, since Bahrain’s policy is a test of Riyadh’s aspirations. In early May, there were reports of the visit of the head of Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence service, Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan, to Damascus. At the end of May, for the first time in 10 years, a Syrian delegation led by the Minister of Tourism Mohammad Rami Martini paid an official visit to Riyadh to participate in the work of the World Tourism Organization Committee for the Middle East.
The results of the presidential elections in Syria once again remind Arab states that they will have to work with Bashar al-Assad and his government. Obviously, Damascus is ready to forget the old grievances. Among other things, Arab nationalist rhetoric is extremely important to the ruling Baath Party. On the eve of the elections, Assad adviser Busseina Shaaban said: “Efforts are being made to improve relations between Damascus and Riyadh, and in the coming days we can see results in this matter. If Riyadh changes its stance on Syria’s return to the Arab League, there will only be one Arab country that opposes it: Qatar. Qatar’s non-Arab ally in the recently weakened regional confrontation is Turkey, which will also hamper this and continue to declare the need for a political settlement of the Syrian conflict. Admittedly, this is less and less possible, even if the opinion of Turkey, which has more than 3.5 million registered Syrian refugees, is in order.
Veni, vidi, vici?
Globally, Russia and the United States have different positions. Russia’s foreign policy advocates sovereignty, Syria’s return to the Arab League and its fast restoration. But even if Syria returns to the League, it will not solve the country’s economic problems, where corruption is rampant, the currency continues to depreciate, there is barely enough electricity and fuel for the population to survive, and 80% of citizens remain below the poverty line. Moreover, the Syrian economy will not receive serious injections, even from the Gulf countries, due to the policies and sanctions of the United States, which remains the hegemony in the region. However, it is precisely the regional recognition of Damascus that is extremely useful and can be seen as a step towards greater stabilization.
Even before the elections in Syria, the Americans, along with Britain, France, Germany and Italy, issued a joint statement on their illegitimacy. The sanctions adopted by the US Congress against Syria under the name of “Caesar Law” are of a “secondary” nature, which means that any third country doing business with the Syrian government is included in the list of US sanctions. UAE businesses have faced this problem before, and the sanctions potentially deprive Syria of any major plans with the Gulf states in the future. This problem is insoluble at the regional level. It all depends on the Americans’ commitment to implementing the sanctions regime. An excessive American appetite for sanctions can harm the interests of its regional allies, which will displease them (and not always tacitly). For the moment, however, to quote journalists from the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, we observe “the absence of American leadership”: the United States does not undertake to promote any active campaign to counter the normalization of relations between Syria. and other members of the international community. The previous pattern regarding Syria remains – with the illegal presence of the US military in the east of the country, support for Kurdish groups and the illegal use of Syrian resources.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has not yet charted a new course towards Syria, since this issue is not a priority for it. Under these conditions, interested regional and global actors have the opportunity to correct their positions, to forge links with previously inaccessible actors and to attempt to overcome existing restrictions.
Bashar al-Assad sent a message to the whole world that he is ready for a new stage. The world is not what it was ten years ago. At the regional level, the Arabs are considering accepting the existing reality, but at the global level, the Syrian question is not a priority. In his victory speech, al-Assad noted that the Syrian people “returned to the true meaning of the revolution” after it was “wiped out by mercenaries”. It is evident that Damascus stands constantly and patiently on its ground. The Arabs say that patience is the key to joy. The only question is who owns this joy.