Arab Summit 2023: Bashar al-Assad raises the banner of victory from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

  • Firas Kilani
  • BBC

1 hour ago

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is leading his country’s delegation to attend the Jeddah summit for the first time in 12 years

Attendance was postponed several times during the past three years as a result of the refusal of some Arab countries. Today, at the invitation of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and his crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrives in Saudi Arabia to attend the Arab summit after an absence that lasted twelve years, despite the objection of the State of Qatar, which preferred not to stand in the way of the Arab consensus on restoring Syria’s seat in the The Arab League of the Government of Damascus.

Going back to the year 2010, the date of the last summit that Assad attended in the Libyan city of Sirte, the scene seems to belong to another era, at that time the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was presiding over the summit in the presence of presidents who were then overthrown in the midst of what was known as the Arab Spring revolutions, some of whom died such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Tunisian Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the Algerian Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, and some of them were killed, like the Libyan Muammar Gaddafi and the Yemeni Ali Abdullah Saleh, while Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is in prison.

Only Bashar al-Assad, whose country witnessed the most violent civil war in the current century that followed a peaceful revolution, is still in power, after overcoming the worst by 2015, when his forces lost control of most parts of the country in favor of his opponents and fundamentalist organizations, foremost of which is the so-called Islamic State and the Islamic Front. Al Nusra affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Russia’s intervention at the time, which was preceded by direct Iranian support, allowed it to regain control of much of the country by defeating the Islamic State in March 2019, besieging the opposition in limited areas in the governorates of Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo, and an unresolved situation in areas east of the Euphrates River, which remained Practically under the control of the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces, with American support, with the presence of the regime forces and Russian forces in some cities and border areas.

A poster depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a Damascus street

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The Russian intervention was decisive in helping the Syrian army extend its control over large areas of Syria

Al-Assad’s invitation to the summit was preceded by multiple meetings between the Syrian government and some Arab countries that paved the way for attending the summit. Through a political solution that preserves Syria’s unity, cohesion, and sovereignty,” and that it is “the beginning of meetings that will continue to hold talks aimed at reaching a solution to the Syrian crisis, consistent with Security Council Resolution 2254, and addressing all the consequences of the humanitarian, political, and security crisis,” according to what was stated in the text of the official statement that was read. the meeting.

The position of the Syrian opposition

However, the Syrian opposition understands the significance of using the word “harmony” and not the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254, which was issued on December 18, 2015, and provides for support for a Syrian-led political process, facilitated by the United Nations, and establishes, within a targeted period of six months, a provision with A credibility that is inclusive and not based on sectarianism, and sets a timetable and process for drafting a new constitution, and also expresses support for free and fair elections, to be held pursuant to the new constitution, within eighteen months under the supervision of the United Nations.

Today, nearly eight years after that decision, Assad appears to be holding most of the power joints in the Syrian scene with its regional and international ramifications, and the opposition appears to be in its worst condition, especially since it is still until today hostage to the political decision of the countries that host it, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which began negotiating with the government. Syria for more than a year.

The former head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, says that what the Arab countries are doing is “an attempt at a solution, and that they have not yet presented a solution, but rather have begun to open the doors and wait for what the regime will present.” And justice, and that the matter not be mere words that the regime utters without any meaning.”

Al-Khatib had attended the Arab summit held in Doha in 2013, at the invitation of Qatar, to replace the Syrian president, amid great hopes among the majority of Arab countries that stood against Assad and supported his opponents, that this step would be the beginning of turning the page on the Baath regime that ruled Syria for decades.

Ten years later, Al-Khatib is still residing in Doha, and his presence has become a moment to remember, as the coalition was not invited to attend any other summit, after the changes on the ground began to overthrow any hopes of overthrowing the regime.

Al-Khatib insists that there are still no guarantees from the regime that it will respect what it will talk to all parties, and that if it presents a reasonable vision that satisfies the Syrians and at the same time guarantees its realization in the presence of regional and international powers that take care of the matter, then this may be the beginning of a solution, calling for waiting for what it will bear. The coming weeks and how the system will behave.

A picture shows President Bashar al-Assad (right) meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan (left)

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Faisal bin Farhan, the first Saudi foreign minister to arrive in Syria since the start of the conflict

According to sources close to the Syrian government, Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, played the most prominent effort to persuade the reluctant Arab countries to accept Assad’s invitation to the Arab summit, and culminated a month ago in the visit of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan to Damascus.

Relations between Syria and some Arab countries witnessed a remarkable openness during the past few years, as in the case of the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia, noting that some countries did not sever their relations with Damascus and maintained public and secret lines of communication, as in the case of Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria and Oman.

Apart from what was announced in the official statements, it was not clear why Saudi Arabia took this decision to restore relations with the Syrian president, even though the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was the one who opened the door for a large group of Arab countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus and cut lines of communication with them in August. August 2011, before its membership in the Arab League was suspended by a decision of the Arab foreign ministers in November 2011.

files for discussion

Analysts say that two files stand behind Saudi Arabia’s move with the support of a group of Arab countries. The first is the Saudi-Iranian agreement mediated by China, which is believed to have stipulated finding ways out of the Syrian crisis with agreements that were not revealed to the public. During the past weeks, it was noticed that many Iranian flags and flags of Shiite militias disappeared. Which is active in Syria, which was interpreted as part of the understandings, it is not clear where it will lead.

The second issue that troubles Jordan and the Gulf countries is the smuggling of drugs that are manufactured and exported from Syria, most notably the “Captagon” pills, which have become a major crisis not only for Jordan and Iraq and through them to Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries, but also to some European countries that have seized large quantities of them as well. in Italy and Greece.

Two days after the meeting that brought together the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Syria at the beginning of this month, a warplane believed to be Jordanian, in an unprecedented step throughout the conflict in Syria, bombed factories for the manufacture of “Captagon” in the As-Suwayda region on the border with Syria, targeting Marai. Al-Ramathan, which Amman considers the largest drug smuggler, flooded Jordan and the Gulf with thousands of shipments of “Captagon”.

Among the files that trouble the neighboring countries of Syria, specifically Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, is the refugee file, as these countries host millions of Syrians who fled their areas since 2011, and the Arab countries hope to ensure the return of the largest part of these refugees within arrangements and guarantees provided by the regime, which is what was promised Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, during a media interview in Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of Arab foreign ministers’ meetings, called on refugees to return to Syria.

Moaz al-Khatib says that previous experiences in this regard are not encouraging, and he refers to the guarantees provided by Damascus through Russia after entering the areas of Daraa and its countryside in 2018, and the way in which fighters and civilians alike were dealt with subsequently.

A soldier passes a column of Syrian refugees at the Syrian border with Jordan in the Jordanian town of Ruweished

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Syria is still witnessing the largest displacement crisis in the world, with more than 13 million people forced to either flee outside the country or flee within its borders, according to the United Nations.

In addition to the millions of refugees outside Syria, there are about three million displaced people living in opposition areas in camps in the far northwest of Syria, and they are following with concern the developments that led to Assad’s invitation to the Arab Summit and how its consequences will be on their situation in the future.

A large part of these displaced people left their areas of residence, either as a result of attacks by government forces, as in Homs and Hama, or as part of settlements whereby their areas were handed over to government forces in return for securing their departure to northwestern Syria, as in many areas in rural Damascus such as Ghouta, Darayya, and Qalamoun, or to the south in Daraa and its countryside. .

Abu Yasser, who fled with his son to the town of Atmeh, rejects the Arab move to open up to Damascus, and says that they have been besieged in the town of Darayya for years, and have provided many dead, wounded, and detainees, and rejected all calls for reconciliation at that time, wondering how they will take this step today while they are in the north?! Stressing that most of them refuse to return until the regime is completely overthrown.

Many areas that witnessed battles, such as the case of Darayya, require almost complete reconstruction, which requires tens of billions of dollars, something that Damascus relies on the Arab Gulf states to extend a helping hand in, despite the US sanctions that prevent this within what is known as the “Caesar” law.


Turkey-loyal factions affiliated with the so-called National Army and the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham organization control the areas that are still outside the authority of Damascus in Idlib governorate and the northern and western countryside of Aleppo.

In conjunction with the Arab openness to Damascus, the Syrian-Turkish relations witnessed remarkable progress during the past months under Russian and Iranian auspices. Those controlled by factions linked to Turkey, or those run by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the organization known as Jabhat al-Nusra previously.

Janblat Shekai, editor-in-chief of the semi-official Syrian newspaper Al-Watan, says that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s absolute control over the city of Idlib and most of its countryside and some areas of Hama and Lattakia countryside may constitute a double-edged sword, as the control of the region by one organization may allow easier negotiation with it instead of negotiating with dozens. The factions, and therefore an agreement can be reached with it, whatever the type of this agreement, and the second option is if it does not accept the entry into the terms of the settlement and the normalization process that is being studied and negotiated between Syria and Turkey under Russian and Iranian auspices, then the military confrontation is the last option, and certainly this organization will not find any sympathy International with him as a terrorist classifier.

People hold opposition banners and flags during a demonstration marking the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict in opposition-held Idlib

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It is expected that the negotiation between these parties will also include a settlement of the status of the areas controlled by the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces, east of the Euphrates, where there are still some American bases that host about a thousand fighters.

Turkey considers the Kurdish protection units that control the Syrian Democratic Forces an extension of the terrorist-classified Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and it launched attacks against it in October 2019, and took control of a border strip extending from the city of Ras al-Ain to the city of Tal Abyad, forcing the Kurds to arrange the deployment of forces government forces in some towns and border areas, with Russian mediation and guarantees, to stop the attack.

Despite the increase in indications that the Syrian catastrophe, which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of dead, wounded, and disappeared detainees, and displaced millions internally and externally, the pending files with their internal, regional and international complications still need a lot of effort and time to arrange exits for them, but mostly under the roof of the president Bashar al-Assad until further notice.