By: Kashif Anwar, Research Analyst, GSDN
The year 2011 was a difficult and turning phase for many Middle East nations as it went through the Arab Spring movement which started in Tunisia and caused political upheaval, uprising and civil war in many Arab countries. Among many nations, Syria’s civil war against its President Bashar al- Assad has continued to be an issue for many nations as it re-ignites the issue of Kurds and has witnessed Russian and the US involvement in the war which has only worsened the situation. As the conflict caused economic and humanitarian (refugee) crisis in the country, situation in and for Syria has changed since 2011 and as President Assad has a firm control in the country, is back in the Arab League and conflict in the country appears to have settled into a frozen state.
Situation in Syria
To understand the situation in Syria, today, a roughly 30% of the country is controlled by the rebel or opposition forces. However, heavy fighting largely ceased to exist between the rebels and the government and there is a growing regional trend towards a normalisation ties between both the groups. Meanwhile, despite the West push to remove President Assad from the power and growing power politics between the West and Russia with Turkey playing a strategic role to address the Kurds issue, and after 13 years the power and hold of President Assad has become firm in the country.
With the Assad regime continues to operate with impunity in the areas controlled by its army and he has only continue to strengthened his power over the years. Despite accusations labelled against the crimes committed by his forces and government, the power centric politics between the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Israel and the sects politics and conflicts have made situation worse in the country and difficult for the 12 million Syrian refugee. The developments in Syria shows an impasse has been achieved in the recent years projecting the future of Syria has been frozen and prospects of a peace talk to bring normalisation and address humanitarian crisis situation in the country has become low.
With poverty and hunger widespread in the country and prospects of securing a safe place in Syria is minimal due to a stalemate in the Syrian civil war. As the West argues, regime and Russia and Iran have benefitted from the on-going situation in the country and the use of vetoes by Russia and China against West backed UN Security Council Resolution has impeded the roadmap/process to secure justice and accountability in Syria. Considering violence is low and combined with a collapsing economy and spread of diseases, natural calamity and situation like the Covid-19 pandemic has hardened the life of people in Syria. Despite such situation in Syria, conflict remains frozen, with status-quo is in fragile and armies from the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Israel are operating on different sides of the conflict have caused no progress in political negotiation, which is a worrying sign for the people.
Syria re-entry into the Arab League
Despite such situation and considering how the civil war unfolded in the first place and role played by vested countries which includes many nations in the Arab League. Since 2011, things have changed when Syria was removed from the league. As the league is often seen as disunited group and has not played a significant role in the Syrian peace negotiations. This became clear in 2018 when many members begin to repair their relationship with Syria, though, it was largely symbolically in the past such decision became beneficial for the Assad regime. As West Asian countries tilt towards Russia and China, this has cautioned the West which could impact the peace process in Syria like under the UNSC Resolution 2254 (2015) and Astana Talk proceeded in a right direction in the last few years.
Such aspects became prominent during the Russia-Ukraine war when many West Asian countries didn’t response to the West’s call to decouple from Russia and China. As many West Asian countries depend upon Russia and China for military hardware and the economic benefits respectively. Recent alignment between the Arab League and Syria is only after effect of such aligning of interest of West Asian countries and Russia and China. In May 2023, Syria was re-admitted into the Arab League shows a collective decision taken as they agree isolation of Syria hasn’t worked so far and need to address problems and challenges like refugees and the illicit drug trade which could spread to other nations. Such re-alignment highlights following aspects:
- They recognise the Assad regime will remain in power in the country.
- Seen as an attempt to reduce the influence of Iran in the country.
- Want to push reconstruction plan in Syria which will provide them economic gains.
- Such development allow them to diversify their alliance beyond the US.
The return of Syria into the league is a result of many factors and among them changing regional reality is seen as a main driver. With stalemate on the ground and realisation that the President Assad can’t be removed and the momentum for revolution failed to withstand with the time forced the opposition forces to come to a conclusion and to extent accept the reality in Syria for now. Furthermore, lack of a coherent US policy backed by force on the one hand and President Assad continue to exercise control with the backing of Russia and Iran over 70% of territory on the other hand is seen as a vital factor for normalisation process in the Arab world. Meanwhile, many analyst sees the development as Saudi Arabia push for region’s stability and economic growth in the region, facilitating the beginning of much needed reconstruction and renewed trade between Damascus and other Arab countries.
With this normalisation process, it does not give respite to the Assad regime who will gain new economic ties and a much-needed reconstruction. On the other hand, it also promotes Saudi Arabia role as a mediator, who already enjoyed tremendous political and economic clout in the Middle East. However, France issuing an arrest warrant for President Assad for the crimes he committed against his people, Russia, Syria and the US continue bombing in Syria and with winter approaching, the life of Syrian people will not change anytime soon. As West’s sanction against the Assad regime continues it will act as a hurdle in further normalisation between Arab nations and Syria and Arab’s leadership role. Thus, improvement of people’s situation in Syria and end to their misery is needed which has continued for long and should bring respite in Syria.