The Arab League’s decision to readmit Syria, after over a decade of isolation, signals a growing desire of regional powers to set aside intra-Arab rivalries and work towards establishing a more predictable, stable relationship with one another. Ironically, it is Saudi Arabia, which had rallied the Arab countries to expel Syria in 2011 amid the regime’s crackdown on protests, that pushed for Syria’s readmission. The move is also recognition that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has practically won the civil war and signals the weakening influence of the U.S., which still imposes heavy sanctions on the regime and is upset with the League’s decision. When protests broke out in Syria in 2011, inspired by similar protests elsewhere in the Arab Street, the regime’s response was one of violent repression. But when the protesters took up arms and got support from Mr. Assad’s regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Turkey, the crisis turned into civil war. Over the years, the Assad regime, backed by Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah, managed to stabilise and push back the rebels and jihadists. Today, Mr. Assad controls most of the country, except Idlib in the northwest, which is run by a former al-Qaeda unit, and the northeastern parts ruled by the Kurds, where the U.S. has a military presence.
Though late, the Arab countries realised that their policy of regime change and isolation of Syria had only boomeranged on them. As Syria was expelled from the Arab League and Arab countries backed anti-regime forces in the civil war, Damascus moved closer to Iran. Today, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and others want to reestablish the lost balance in their ties with Syria. The Arab countries and Turkey, which host millions of Syrian refugees, want to send them back. For that, they need to cooperate with and help sanctions-hit Syria, which was battered by a devastating earthquake in February, sustain itself economically. The changing geopolitical environment in West Asia in which rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran are warming up to each other has also helped the Arab rapprochement with Syria. As a token gesture, Syria has agreed to take back 1,000 refugees from Jordan and cooperate with neighbours to crack down on drug smuggling. But this is only the beginning. Mr. Assad might have won the civil war, but the wounds of the war, in which his regime used brutal methods to crush the opposition, are still festering. The country’s infrastructure needs massive investments, the economy needs a reboot and the millions of stranded Syrians have to be allowed to return. The Arab countries could help Syria rebuild itself, while also pushing Mr. Assad to reach out to the opposition to find a permanent solution to the country’s religious and political cleavages.
Courtesy: The Hindu