Syria is returning to the Arab world as its isolation fades.

By Yolande Toll

They seem to be improbable partners, yet on Wednesday the besuited, common Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is heartily inviting the hairy, turban-wearing Islamist priest cum-Leader of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, to Damascus.

This is the first time an Iranian leader has made such a trip since 2010, prior to the Arab Spring uprisings.

From that point forward, Tehran has demonstrated the staunchest of partners, helping – alongside Moscow – to save the Assad system during an especially horrendous nationwide conflict.

The trip takes place at a time when the region is going through significant changes. These have likewise seen the Syrian president and his company – long avoided as outcasts in the Bedouin world – as of late being embraced, plainly once in a while, by their neighbors.

Arab states are increasingly taking steps to normalize ties with Syria, despite opposition from the United States and Europe. Prior to its eventual reinstatement, Syria still hopes to receive observer status at the Arab League summit on May 19 in Riyadh.

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), says, “The international community outside of the region – Russia aside – has largely washed its hands of responsibility for Syria.”

“The regional powers have stepped in to fill the void that has been left. They realize that we as a region cannot afford to ignore Syria if nothing changes and there is no genuine political process. It’s a country of too much importance and size.”

Ties for warming

It’s amazing how things have changed. Back in late 2011, numerous Bedouin states were plainly anticipating a post-Assad time when Syria was reproached and suspended by the 22-part Middle Easterner Association.

Near the League’s headquarters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, hundreds of Syrians waved flags and chanted in support of that move.

Around then there had been a severe crackdown on Syrian favorable to a vote based system nonconformists and I had provided details regarding floods of displaced people escaping the battling. However, the regime’s indiscriminate barrel bombings and poison gas attacks, which were among its worst atrocities, were still to come.

After more than a decade, the numbers are mind-boggling: The United Nations estimates that more than 300,000 civilians have been killed and more than 100,000 have been detained or have vanished, and approximately half of the Syrian population has been forced to relocate or become refugees. Osama al-Sharif, a prominent journalist in Amman, emphasizes that his country was facing a national security threat and turned to Moscow to apply pressure. “That was a game-changer for Jordan,” he says. Russia’s military involvement in Syria in 2015 changed the course of the bloody civil war and forced its neighbors to begin thinking about a future that left Mr. Assad in place.

“At the time, the war was also going on against Daesh, the Islamic State militant group… We had Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, and other pro-Iranian groups positioned very close to the border.”

Despite President Assad’s continued consolidation of control over a significant portion of Syria, Arab efforts to restore ties accelerated following the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria in February and the resulting rush to bring in aid.

Then came the China-mediated resumption of relations between Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse, and Iran, a rival nation that had backed opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.

Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have welcomed Mr. Assad with glee in recent weeks. His wife, Asma, joined him in Abu Dhabi for her first known official trip abroad in a decade. On the tarmac, the wife of the UAE president gave Asma a hug.

In the interim, Syria’s unfamiliar priest has been set for Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Jordan. “The return of Syria to its Arab fold,” the Saudis emphasized, was the topic of their discussion.

The incorrect message

In any case, there are profound divisions between the Bedouin states on how and when to restore Syria. It appears that Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, and Jordan have resisted Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s plans to quickly reinstate it at the Arab League.

An official from the region who was aware of the most recent talks says, on condition of anonymity, “There seems to be a rush to restore relations with Syria, but when asked, no-one could say what guarantees were being sought in return for normalization.” This official was speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It’s a shame. It conveys an incorrect message. The official goes on to say that the Syrians are acting “in a very arrogant way, like everyone else is lucky to have them,” and that there are no consequences.

The US is evident that it doesn’t uphold reestablishing ties nor lifting intense monetary approvals on an unashamed, unreformed Damascus. Barbara Leaf, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, stated in March: This system should be treated as the maverick that it is.”

In any case, she additionally encouraged Middle Easterner partners selecting to end Mr Assad’s disengagement to “ensure that you get something”. She suggested attempting to stop the smuggling of Captagon, an illegal drug produced in Syria. As I have seen at an emergency clinic treating youthful junkies from Jordan and the Middle Easterner Bay, this amphetamine – known as “unfortunate man’s cocaine” – is quick transforming Syria into a narco-state and planting seeds of hopelessness across the Bedouin world.

Different requests could be a decrease in Iran’s tactical presence in Syria and setting conditions that would permit more evacuees to get back or shield individuals living in pieces of Syria still under resistance control.

After years with little advancement in chats with the divided Syrian resistance, numerous Middle Easterner states might likewise want to see essentially a symbolic exertion by Damascus to reconnect.

Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, is pushing for this. “If it can act as a circuit breaker and unlock long-stalled efforts to move the political process forward,” he told the UN Security Council on April 27. “This renewed attention to Syria is very important.”

Dismay and dread

The recent Arab advances will disappoint many Syrians. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states were once seen as allies by the millions of people living in the remaining opposition-held areas in their struggle against Mr. Assad’s rule. They are now more isolated than ever.

Concerns about forced returns are growing among refugees, particularly in Turkey and Lebanon, where acceptance has decreased as a result of economic crises.

Damascus has also been in contact with Turkey, a major supporter of armed opposition groups in Syria. Practically all gatherings lobbying for its 14 May races say they need to send Syrians home.

“The election results give us a lot of anxiety. In his Istanbul coffee shop, a Syrian refugee named Muhammad says, “They clearly state that they want to deport us.”

Common freedoms activists express colossal frustration that there is little reference to past monstrosities in discussions about Syria’s recovery.

Amnesty International researcher Diana Semaan says, “It’s shocking.” The Syrian government’s human rights record is being completely ignored, and a message is being sent that it doesn’t matter what happened.”

Amnesty International urges Arab nations to exert influence over the regime in an effort to stop additional attacks on civilians, arbitrary detentions, and torture. There are calls for co-activity as the UN attempts to set up a worldwide body to help groups of those missing to figure out the destiny and whereabouts of their friends and family.

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