Saturday, July 20, 2024

Saudi Arabia to Invite Syrian President to Arab Leaders Conference, Aiming for New Arab Power

Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend the Arab League summit scheduled for May 19 in Riyadh, signaling a potential end to Syria’s regional isolation. Three sources familiar with the plans said that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan will visit Damascus in the coming weeks to deliver the formal invitation to Assad. The Saudi government’s communication office and the foreign ministries of both countries did not respond to requests for comments.

If Assad attends the summit, it would mark a significant step towards his rehabilitation within the Arab world, considering that Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011. Assad was boycotted by many Western and Arab states over his brutal crackdown on protests, which ultimately led to a protracted civil war that drew in numerous foreign powers and splintered the country.

Syria’s return to the 22-member body would mostly be symbolic, but it reflects a change in the regional approach towards the Syrian conflict. Discussions over a list of demands from Saudi Arabia for the Syrian government to meet as a condition to mend ties, including close cooperation on border security and drug trafficking, have been ongoing for over a year.

Last month, sources told Reuters that Riyadh and Damascus had reached an agreement to reopen their embassies after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Although the Saudi foreign ministry did not confirm the agreement, it said that it was in talks with the Syrian foreign ministry to resume consular services.

One of the sources said that initial discussions for a visit by Prince Faisal to Damascus or by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad to Riyadh were postponed because of the earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria in February. Egypt, an Arab League heavyweight, has also resumed contacts with Assad. Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on Saturday during the first official visit by a Syrian foreign minister to Cairo in over a decade.

It remains to be seen how the Arab world and international community would respond to Assad’s participation in the summit. Some countries have already expressed their concerns over the possible normalization of ties with the Syrian government, given the ongoing human rights abuses and the displacement of millions of Syrians. Nevertheless, the move could potentially pave the way for a new Arab power that includes Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other regional players, thereby shifting the dynamics in the Middle East.

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