Bashar al-Assad arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to attend the Arab League summit, May 18, 2023
UPDATE, MAY 19:
Bashar Assad is attending the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia, less than two weeks after the bloc lifted its 12-year suspension of Syria’s membership.
There was no reference to the Assad regime’s killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displacement of millions, as its head was received in Jeddah on Thursday by Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and the Deputy Governor of the Mecca region, Badr bin Sultan.
Assad is expected to address the summit later on Friday.
ORIGINAL ENTRY, MAY 8: The Arab League has readmitted the Assad regime, 12 years after suspending Syria’s membership over the deadly repression of mass protests.
The decision was a significant triumph for Bashar al-Assad as he seeks to restore relations with Arab countries, even as he controls only part of Syria and civilians faces protracted economic crisis and shortages.
In February and March, Assad made his first state visits in the region since the Syrian uprising since March 2011, travelling to Oman and the UAE. He has welcomed the Saudi Foreign Minister in Damascus, and there is chatter that he could host Saudi leader Mohammad bin Salman.
Meeting in Cairo, the Arab League said on Sunday that the Assad regime can resume participation in meetings immediately. The bloc called for resolution of problems, including the millions of refugees who fled the regime’s war across Syria and drug smuggling — linked to the Assad elite — across the region.
Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters, “The reinstatement of Syria does not mean normalization of relations between Arab countries and Syria. This is a sovereign decision for each country to make.”
Qatar, which had opposed the regime’s return, said its position on normalization has not changed. It hoped Sunday’s decision could be “a motive for the Syrian regime to address the roots of the crisis”.
The Arab League said the Secretary General, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt will liaise with the regime on reciprocal steps. Practical measures include arrangements for the delivery of aid in regime areas.
A Jordanian official said the regime will have to show it is serious about reaching a political solution. He noted this would be a pre-condition for Arab lobbying for the lifting of Western sanctions to facilitate reconstruction.
Syria’s membership of the Arab League was suspended in 2011 after the crackdown on street protests against Assad that led to the civil war. Several Gulf states including Saudi Arabia began backing rebel groups fighting to oust Assad from power.