Damascus: Several indicators are coming out of Damascus, signaling that a rapprochement with the Arab World might be in the works, aimed at countering Turkish occupation of Syrian lands.
Both Syria and moderate states in the region have a common enemy in the Qatar-based, Turkish supported Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization outlawed in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, and Damascus.
In addition to jointly criticizing the Turkish invasion of northeast Syria, which started on October 9, 2019, these Arab capitals aim at luring Syria away from the Iranian orbit.
Turkey’s expansionism in the Arab World, its support for the Egyptian Brotherhood, and its recent backing of the Brotherhood-affiliated government of Fayez Al Sarraj in Libya have raised eyebrows throughout the region, highlighting the need for joint action against Ankara’s territorial and political ambitions.
“A rapprochement with Damascus would be hitting two birds with one stone,” said the London-based Syrian analyst Danny Makki.
Speaking to Gulf News, he added: “Soft power works and it can be used to make Syria a huge ally for the Arab World in its hall of mirrors clash with Turkey and Iran.”
Re-opening of the Saudi embassy
On December 6, 2019, Russia Today ran a story saying that renovation of the Saudi embassy in Damascus was currently underway, claiming that it was “just a matter of time” before it re-opens.
No denial or confirmation was issued either by Syrian or Saudi officials.
Ten days later, the Saudi daily Okaz ran another report, this time saying that “indicators” were showing that the nearly ten-year Arab boycott of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad was coming to an end.
Syrian officials in Riyadh
Coinciding with both reports was a visit to Riyadh by a delegation from the state-affiliated Syrian Journalists Syndicate, headed by its president Mousa Abdul Nour.
It was the first visit of Syrian officials to the Saudi capital since bilateral relations were suspended in August 2011.
It could not have happened without an official invitation from Saudi Arabia, and approval from Syrian authorities.
Since February 2019, state-run Syrian media has visibly changed note on Saudi Arabia, muzzling all previous criticism of the kingdom.
Its television, websites, news agency and newspapers have muzzled all criticism of Saudi Arabia, focusing only on Qatar and Turkey as the source of all evil in the Arab World, which was music to the ears of Saudi officials.
Since assuming office last October, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Ibn Farhan Al Saud has refrained from criticizing or even mentioning Syria in any of his speeches.
Signs of cautious normalization started appearing in September 2018, when Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa warmly embraced his Syrian counterpart Walid Al Mouallem at the UN General Assembly, live on television.
That footage was first aired not by Syrian television but by the Saudi channel, Al Arabiya.
The very next day, the Bahraini Minister appeared on Al Arabiya, saying that Arab states would never allow Syria’s future to be monopolized by non-Arab regional states, in clear reference to Iran and Turkey.
He added: “We deal with the Syrian government and not those who are trying to bring it down,” a clear reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The UAE embassy in Damascus
Then, in December 2018, the UAE re-opened its embassy in Damascus, followed suit by Jordan and Bahrain.
Then came the re-opening of the Syrian-Jordanian borders, throwing an economic lifeline to Damascus while hoping that this would reduce its dependence on Tehran.
Earlier this month, the UAE Charge d’Affaires in Damascus, Abdul Hakim Al Nouaimi held a reception on the UAE National Day, attended by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
Raising the ire of the Muslim Brotherhood, Nouami said that Abu Dhabi was hoping that calm is restored to Syria “under the wise leadership of President Bashar Al Assad.”
Mekdad reciprocated, saying: “Syria will never forget the UAE standing by Syria’s side in its war on terrorism.”
Return to Arab League conditional
Several Arab countries, headed by Iraq, Algeria, and Lebanon, have been lobbying to restore Syria’s membership in the Arab League, suspended at the start of the conflict back in 2011.
Saudi Arabia has reportedly not objected, with the specific objective of bringing the war-torn country back into the Arab family of nations, in order to minimize Iranian influence.
The strongest objection came from Qatar, which blocked a comeback ahead of the 2019 Arab summit in Tunisia.
The League has made it clear that there are two conditions that Damascus has to abide by before its membership is restored: distancing itself from Iran and implementing UNSCR 2254, which calls for the launch of a constitutional process, followed by election to end the Syrian conflict.