When eight years ago Syrians rose up against their president, Bashar Al Assad, nations around the world lent their support to them with words.
However, offering only rhetoric was not enough to counter powerful regional and international forces supporting the embattled leader. It is safe to say that, without the support of Russia and Iran, Al Assad would have been long gone by now.
However, the reality of the situation is that he is here to stay, whether nations support this or not. Syria, which has historically been a heavyweight in the Arab world, was reduced to areas of influence where others nations such as Iran, Russia and Turkey were calling the shots.
This is not an ideal situation going forward.
Several Arab states are now reaching out to Syria to open up dialogue and channels that were cut off years back. Sudanese leader Omar Al Bashir was the first Arab leader to visit Al Assad recently followed by the UAE’s decision to reopen its embassy there. The UAE rightfully believes that now is the time for dialogue and not exclusion. The next step could be to readmit Syria to the Arab League — although there has been no confirmation yet this will take place. Excluding Syria from the Arab fold only serves to strengthen its ties with Iran, which Arab states have bemoaned for decades now. UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, emphasised this point on Wednesday during a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Shaikh Abdullah noted Syria should “become part of the Arab region but unfortunately now it’s far [from the fold]”. On his part, Lavrov said Russia was working on setting up the constitutional committee, which will help Syrians start the political process, aimed at restoring Syria’s integrity and sovereignty.
The GCC has also opened up channels of communication with Russia, seen as the rising power broker in the Middle East as the US role is seen as diminishing. Arab states hope that Russia will be able to limit Iran’s influence in Syria which has been largely untamed over the years.
Iranian expansionism cannot be tolerated as it has already spread its tentacles in the region through backing sectarian proxy groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Al Houthis in Yemen and Al Hashd Al Shaabi in Iraq.
Arab states have made some progress in Iraq through outreach and they should replicate this model in Syria.