Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s arrival in the Saudi port city of Jeddah marks a significant development in his regional rehabilitation, according to reports from Al-Arabiya TV and Syrian state television. This visit comes ahead of the Arab League summit, which Al-Assad will attend. It signifies a notable shift as Syria was reinstated into the regional organization earlier this month, more than 11 years after its suspension.
The return of Syria to the Arab League is a significant step, considering that President Al-Assad and his government had been shunned by many Arab states since 2011 due to a brutal crackdown on opposition protesters and the subsequent devastating war in Syria. However, this visit to Saudi Arabia, a regional heavyweight, demonstrates an attempt by the majority of Arab states to restore ties with Syria.
Previously, Saudi Arabia had been a key supporter of armed opposition groups seeking to overthrow Al-Assad during the Syrian war. However, in recent months, Riyadh has shifted its stance, calling for dialogue to end the conflict that has resulted in the loss of half a million lives and the displacement of half of Syria’s pre-war population.
President Al-Assad’s government has regained control over significant parts of Syria, largely due to the support of his main allies, Russia and Iran, who have played a crucial role in tipping the balance of power in his favor.
Relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia had been strained since Al-Assad assumed office in 2000 following the death of his father and former president, Hafez al-Assad. The two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2012. However, last week they agreed to reopen their embassies, signifying a thaw in relations.
Efforts to reintegrate Syria into the Arab fold began as early as 2018 when the United Arab Emirates re-established ties with Damascus. This process gained momentum following deadly earthquakes in northern Syria and southern Turkey in February, which led to an influx of aid from the region.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan, indicated that there was growing consensus in the Arab world for a new approach to Syria, emphasizing the need for negotiations with Damascus to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been actively promoting peace in the region. In recent months, Riyadh has improved relations with Iran, restored ties with Syria, and taken steps towards ending its involvement in the Yemeni war. Iran, a key supporter of the Syrian government, also signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia in China in March to resume relations.
The renewed Saudi-Iranian ties are expected to have positive effects on Middle Eastern countries where the two have backed rival groups. These developments mark a significant shift in regional dynamics and raise hopes for increased stability and cooperation in the Middle East.