President Assad’s Syria Back in the Arab League

May 8, 2023

Yesterday, following an extraordinary meeting in Cairo, the Arab League re-admitted Syria to its ranks after an 11-year absence. According to CNN, “Syria, from tonight, is a full member of the Arab League, and starting tomorrow they have the right to participate in any meeting. When the host nation, in this case, Saudi Arabia, sends the invitation, (Assad) can attend if he wishes to,” Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told journalists. Moreover, the Arab League supports the “territorial integrity of Syria,” and the “withdrawal of all foreign forces” from the country said the Arab League statement.

In a recent Washington Post article David Adesnik, a senior fellow and director of research at the “Foundation for Defense of Democracies” said, “… as various Arab states have kicked off efforts to normalize relations with the Assad regime, the Biden administration has signaled its readiness to accept the outcome.” And he concluded his article with the following: “Assad’s rehabilitation has only come this far because the administration gave his neighbors the green light. A reversal could stop the process in its tracks.” [i]

Against so many failed external interventions, regime change projects, and Washington’s disappointment with the level of support from the Global South on the war in Ukraine, such advice could not be further away from reality. A red light from the administration will not stop the process. Because the regime change project in Syria has proved a total failure with hundreds and hundreds of Syrians dead and the country devastated. The “Foundation for Defense of Democracies” should care more about their plight than extending the process of rehabilitation.

To Mr. Adesnik’s disappointment and regardless of what is still being said in some routine Western statements, the truth is that the days of the Friends of Syria Group meetings and international coalitions targeting regime change are now history. This is precisely why the “Joint Statement on the Occasion of the 12th Anniversary of the Syrian Uprising” he referred to, was only signed by the Governments of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the US. [ii]

But the much larger Friends of Syria Group was formed after Russia and China, in the light of the Libya experience, vetoed a UN Security Council resolution intended to pave the way for another Western intervention. The Group held its first meeting in Tunis on February 24, 2012. On April 1st, 2012, it met for the second time in Istanbul. Türkiye’s ruling AKP government was determined to shape the region’s future.

As a matter of fact, later that month, the Turkish Foreign Minister at the time delivered an ambitious foreign policy speech in the Turkish parliament. Emphasizing the genuine desire for change underlying the Arab Spring, he said that attempts to explain the current developments with plans imposed from abroad and external conspiracies were first and foremost an insult to the honorable peoples of the region.

Here are a few passages from his address:

“The Friends of the Syrian Group represents the conscience of the international community and it was formed as a result of our determined efforts… We organized the second meeting in Istanbul with the participation of 83 countries and international organizations. It’s clear that these 83 nations did not come here to say ‘Let’s keep the Assad regime in place’… As Turkey, we shall continue to direct and lead the massive wave of change in the Middle East. Among the peoples of the region, Turkey is seen not only as a friend and a brother but also as the leader of a new and powerful vision to shape the future, create a new regional order… Lastly, I wish to stress the following: A new Middle East is being born. We shall continue to be the owner, the leader, and the steward of this new Middle East”.

Soon after, President Erdogan’s hitherto close friend President Assad came to be referred to simply as “Esed”.

But now, the Turkish government is struggling to resume relations with Damascus under a face-saving formula. Reverting to calling the Syrian leader properly, as “President Assad”, will be the easy part but unfortunately, there is a lot more. With millions of Syrians displaced and mostly settled in Turkey, with billions of taxpayers’ money invested in a cause that was never attainable, this adventure has also resulted in yielding Turkey’s regional security to the overpowering interests and agendas of Russia and Iran, particularly the US.

The contrast between the early years’ empty bravado and today’s realities unmistakably shows that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) foray into the Syrian conflict has been the most disastrous strategic blunder in the history of the Republic.

And regardless of who wins the forthcoming elections, getting things right with Syria would be a daunting task.

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[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/04/26/biden-syria-assad-normalization/

[ii] https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-on-the-occasion-of-the-12th-anniversary-of-the-syrian-uprising/

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About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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