Egypt participates in Ukraine International Travel, Tourism Exhibition    139 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza    Palestinian under attack in 73rd anniversary of Nakba Day    Egypt's Health Ministry launches awareness campaigns against COVID-19    Egypt partakes in drafting OECD Recommendations on AI    Palestine's Telecom Ministry names top social media supportive hashtags for maximum engagement    Egypt fines mobile operators EGP 20m for number portability violations    Sudan pledges to investigate killing of 2 protestors during peaceful sit-in    Grand Egyptian Museum finishes installing Tutankhamun's 3rd shrine    Egypt discovers several ancient tombs in Sohag's Al-Hamdiya necropolis    Egypt scales up readiness of hospitals nationwide for Eid Al-Fitr holidays    Egyptian hospitals in Sinai on alert amid Israeli aggression on Gaza    Egypt announces Thursday 1st day of Eid Al-Fitr    Nuweiba: Egypt's paradise of serenity    Egypt's current account deficit jumps to $7.6 bln in 1H of FY2020/21: CBE    Egypt's trade deficit down 1.2% to $3.34bn in February 2021: CAPMAS    Global economic recovery to improve debt service coverage ratios: Moody's    Egypt's Parliament discusses abolishing imprisonment for female debtors    India signs an agreement to buy 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Eva Pharma    Egypt will locally manufacture first 2m Sinovac vaccine doses by June-end    2021 South East European Film Festival celebrates cinematic diversity of 18 countries    Turkey seeks to restore 'historic unity' with Egyptian people: Erdogan    Elneny's Arsenal targets 'remontada' in Europa League semi-finals    Zamalek eye return to victories at expense of Smouha in Egyptian Premier League    Al Ahly face injuries as they take on Al Ittihad Alexandria    Egypt buys 30 Rafale fighter jets from France    Direct flights between Russia and Egypt will resume in June, Ambassador    Egypt's Ahly is establishing a new stadium, expected to be 'sports complex'    Blinken presses Ethiopia's Abiy to ensure full withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray    Forces opposed to Somali president control parts of Mogadishu    Nine people executed in Egypt over Kerdasa police killings in 2013    UEFA investigating Ibrahimovic's alleged ties to betting company    61 doctors died from coronavirus since start of April: Egypt's medical syndicate    Egypt targets 5.6% inflation rate in FY2020/21, 6% in FY2021/22    Egypt allocates EGP 132 bln to modernise railway system: Transport minister    Real Madrid not thinking about any Super League sanctions: Zidane    Total declares force majeure on Mozambique LNG after attacks    All the winners at the 93rd Academy Awards    Egypt's Ahly granted approval to build new stadium on Cairo outskirts    Aswan Int'l Women's Film Festival dedicates 5th edition to Kawthar Heikal    BREAKING: Egypt's information minister Osama Heikal resigns amid parliamentary criticism    'War was not Egypt's aim, but peace was the ultimate goal,' Sisi says on Sinai Liberation Day anniversary    Factbox: Key nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards    Old Cairo's Al-Fustat will be revamped on Egyptian President's directives    Veteran Egyptian journalist Makram Mohamed Ahmed passes away at 86    Allianz Egypt partners with IGNITE to equip brand ambassadors for 2021 Olympics    Hassan Allam consortium wins contract to manage, operate Grand Egyptian Museum    Seasoned Egyptian screenwriter Wahid Hamed dies at 76    







Thank you for reporting!
This image will be automatically disabled when it gets reported by several people.





Damascus returns
Published in Ahram Online on 23 - 03 - 2021

Syria has dominated the Gulf foreign policy scene in the last two weeks. This month marks the start of the Syrian Civil War a decade ago, and the latest relevant diplomatic manoeuvre was a visit to the Sultanate of Oman by Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Faisal Al-Miqdad, preceded by a tour of the Gulf by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Special Envoy for Syrian settlement Alexander Lavrentiev.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia changed their approach to the Syrian crisis over two years ago. In that time Qatar has continued on its course of supporting militant groups seeking to topple President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, siding more with Turkey. Meanwhile Oman kept to the middle path as always, not taking sides.
Miqdad's visit to Muscat took place within days of the Russian diplomats visiting Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Doha. At the last stop, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu joined Lavrov and their Qatari counterpart in launching "a new trilateral consultation process in an attempt to promote a political solution to Syria's 10-year conflict", as Cavusoglu announced from the Qatari capital.
Though Russia is the main international backer of the Syrian government, Damascus is wary of the Qatari-Turkish alliance as Doha is the only Gulf country condoning Turkey's occupation of Syrian territories and sharing Ankara's support for militant groups in northwestern Syria. That is why Syria sent its foreign minister to Oman in an attempt to counterbalance the Gulf stance towards any possible settlement of the internal conflict in the war-torn country.
According to the Oman News Agency (ONA), Miqdad "describes the Sultanate's positions on the Syrian crisis and regional and international issues as positive and accurate because they are inspired by the enlightened thought of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik… We appreciate the Omani efforts seeking to end the suffering of the Syrian people and Oman's support for the restoration of stability in Syria". That diplomatic statement might not reflect what was actually discussed when Miqdad met Sayed Asaad Bin Tarik Al Said, deputy prime minister for International Relations and Cooperation Affairs.
The most notable position was from the Saudi capital expressing agreement with Emirati and Egyptian calls for the need to bring Syria back into the Arab League and push for a political settlement. Besides Lavrov's visit and meetings with Saudi officials, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman met with the Russian Special Envoy for Syrian settlement Alexander Lavrentiev in Riyadh.
A day before, in Abu Dhabi, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said that Syria's return to the Arab fold is "inevitable", adding that Syria's return to the Arab League is in the interest of Syria and other countries in the region. In a press conference with Lavrov, he said: "The Caesar Act is the biggest challenge facing joint work with Syria", referring to a US law that imposes sanctions on anyone dealing with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
Some analysts interpreted the Emirati and Saudi position as "a coded message to Washington". They are ready to ignore American sanctions on Syria if President Joe Biden's administration ignores Gulf concerns about Iran.
But a Dubai-based Saudi commentator told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Saudi and Emirati position on Syria is consistent with the wider Arab position as the Egyptian foreign minister clearly stated it in a recent Arab League meeting in Cairo. "There are no coded messages. You cannot leave the fate of an Arab country to be decided by others while leading Gulf and Arab countries to a standstill. Political settlement in Syria would put an end to Erdogan's aggression," he added.
A recent paper by the European Council of Foreign Relations titled "How the Turkey-UAE rivalry is remaking the Middle East" suggested that UAE and Saudi Arabia might use their support for the Kurds in northern Syria to face Turkey's military intervention. It notes how both Gulf countries shifted their position on Syria since late 2018, stopping any backing of militant groups, especially those related to Muslim Brotherhood and supported by Turkey and Qatar.
Despite the resolution of the Qatar crisis, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh would not tolerate any solution in Syria that gives the Brotherhood and its terrorist offshoots a future role in the country. The UAE was the first Gulf country to resume relations with Damascus in late 2018. Saudi Arabia is still concerned about Iranian presence and influence in Syria. But if the Russians are leading political settlement efforts Riyadh might be more open to change its stand, as a Western commentator on Gulf issues puts it: "It is a long shot for Saudis to accept dealing with Assad. Yet, opposition to increased Turkish hegemony in Syria is stronger."
The rest of the Gulf countries are not quite as involved in the Syrian matter. For example, Kuwait would traditionally adopt any agreed Arab position. Though Kuwaiti charities still send "humanitarian assistance" through Turkey into Syria, it is more likely to end up aiding militants. Oman is almost neutral and keeps contact with Damascus and all other concerned parties. So, it is mainly Qatar that supports Turkey and militants on one side, and on the other side the UAE and Saudi Arabia are now supporting political settlement and Syria's return to the Arab fold.
It might be early to expect an end to the war in Syria, with militant and terrorist factions regrouping, Turkish military occupations in areas where Islamist groups dominate and an American administration that is probably tolerant of Islamists playing a part in the region.
Yet a transition in the Saudi and Emirati position away from supporting Syrian militants and towards Damascus would almost definitely accelerate political change.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


Clic here to read the story from its source.