by Mustapha Tossa
Under the starry sky of Damascus, Syrian President Bashar El Assad must have only one dream after living more than a decade of solitude. A descent from his presidential plane at the airport in Riyadh, welcomed with great pomp by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Ben Salman. With the honors of a great return to the Arab fold and a fireworks display to celebrate the victory of the Syrian regime over those who have tried in the past to dismantle it, without success.
But this dream is not ready to be realized. The country hosting the Arab summit this May 19, Saudi Arabia, is pushing for its realization, as evidenced by the latest meeting of the Gulf country with Egypt and Jordan. But differences remain and block this project.
While waiting for the outcome of this impasse, Syrian President Bashar El Assad can be pleased with his own resistance. After years of being banned like a pest from the Arab League, he is now the object of all the courting. Saudi Arabia, boosted by its recent reconciliation with Iran under the Chinese umbrella, would like to succeed where Abdelmajid Tebboune’s Algeria had spectacularly failed. The Arab League summit held in Algiers last November had this ambition to reintegrate Syria. But the obstacles were such that the mission was impossible.
Even today, despite the goodwill of Saudi Arabia, which is working to convince its partners, there are still countries that set conditions for the return of Syria to the Arab League. Conditions so onerous for the Syrian regime that their acceptance is a miracle.
Among these countries are Kuwait, Qatar and Morocco. Qatar’s stance towards Damascus is not without contradictions. It is well known that Doha is politically on the Iranian radar. The reintegration of Syria into the Arab League has always been an Iranian and Russian demand. And despite this situation, Qatar, which in the past has armed the most extreme Syrian opposition, is now asking that what remains of this opposition be integrated into the political game as a condition for its opening up to Damascus.
As for Morocco, it poses a condition both simple and clear. That the Syrian regime cease its support and sympathy for the Polisario separatists. Morocco cannot tolerate the return to the Arab League of a country that would take Algeria out of its Arab isolation on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara.
For Bashar El Assad these two conditions seem difficult to achieve. Integrating the opposition may hamper his triumph and prove to be a luxury he can do without now that normalization is more an Arab demand than a Syrian necessity. Officially announcing the recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara may cause it to lose Algerian and Iranian support.
Faced with this dilemma and despite the guarantees that Saudi diplomacy is ready to give, it seems difficult to consider a presence of Bashar Al Assad in Riyadh on May 19. Moreover, this rapprochement between these Arab countries and the Syrian regime is not well perceived either by the Europeans or the Americans. Brussels sees the gift to Bashar Al-Assad as a very bad one, while he has not made any concessions to his opposition as requested by European capitals. While Washington is bound by the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act (Caesar Act) enacted by Donald Trump in late 2019, could not take any step in this direction without having to review this punitive arsenal . This law is part of a slew of sanctions imposed on the Assad regime to force it to make concessions and open up its political game for a transition that would see it leave power at the end of the road .
This Arab opening on Damascus is not unanimous. It makes people grind their teeth and fuels bitterness. Saudi diplomacy would like to make a certain diplomatic profit from it , imagining such an achievement will help the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia embody the role of locomotive of the Arab world, a role which the crown prince and future King of Saudi Arabia Mohamed Ben Salman dreams aloud.