Syrian regime unable to meet Arab states demands; Saudi Arabia is “affected”
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has partially opened the door for Bashar al-Assad to return to the Arab bosom, but it is one of the most affected at the same time in terms of non-stop drug smuggling towards it, in addition to the failure to reach a result through its new vision for dealing with the Syrian file.
In addition, the return of al-Assad is dependent on outstanding, accumulated, and complex files in the Syrian file, which need to be dismantled in order to find a solution. This is what the Arab-driven “Jordanian Initiative” tried to achieve, by presenting a number of items or priorities that define what is hoped and required of the regime from the Arab perspective, and what it can obtain, on the other hand, if responsive.
Among the files that emerged more after the Arab moves was the file of drug smuggling from Syria to the Gulf states. Many Arab meetings and gatherings with the regime were accompanied by thwarting smuggling attempts, in addition to an increase in the pace.
The provisions of the Jordanian Initiative published by the Saudi magazine, Al-Majalla, took a reverse course, by implementing the opposite of it, not adhering to it, and at various levels, which generated a state of Arab and Saudi disappointment, which was not officially expressed in statements, but rather Among the indicators that Saudi Arabia did not open its embassy in Damascus, despite the denial of an Arab diplomatic source, which was not named by the pro-regime al-Watan newspaper, that there are differences between Riyadh and Damascus.
Since the Saudi Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan, on February 18, made his statement on the sidelines of the Munich Security 2023 conference, which touched on the existence of “an Arab consensus that the situation in Syria should not continue as it is,” Saudi Arabia has tended to change the mechanism of its dealings with the Syrian file, up to Ibn Farhan’s visit to Damascus, and his meeting with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, on April 18, in a visit that is the first of its kind since 2011.
This visit, which lasted only hours, was preceded by less than a week’s visit by the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, to Jeddah on April 12, and was followed, on May 19, by al-Assad’s participation in the Jeddah summit after an absence from the Arab League since the beginning of the revolution in 2011, which made al-Assad’s participation and meeting with Arab leaders collectively the first since the Sirte summit in Libya in 2010.
Drug evidence is clear
In addition to many files discussed by the Jordanian Initiative, on the level of the return of refugees, Amphetamine drug smuggling and the relationship with Iran, al-Assad linked, in an exclusive interview with Sky News Arabia channel on August 9, explicitly, the return of refugees to the improvement of the deteriorating reality in the areas of his control, some of which are witnessing for more than a week, peaceful popular protests calling for the overthrow of the regime, after an unprecedented decline in the standard of living and the absence of reform horizons.
As for the Syrian-made amphetamine known as Captagon, which Saudi Arabia thwarted the latest attempts to smuggle, on August 25, al-Assad held the responsibility for the continuation of these operations to “the countries that contributed to creating chaos in Syria,” denying his regime’s connection to its smuggling, despite a Reuters report on May 9 about a Saudi proposal to compensate the regime for the loss of Captagon trade if it is stopped.
At the time, Reuters quoted a source it described as a “regionalist close to Damascus” that Saudi Arabia offered the regime four billion dollars, according to Riyadh’s estimates of the value of Captagon trade. The proposal was presented during the Saudi Foreign Minister’s visit to Damascus on April 18.
Regarding the level of Iranian presence in Syria, and the efforts of the Arabs in general and Saudi Arabia in particular to reduce it, al-Assad went further when he described the Arab inter-relations as formal, explaining that the return to the Arab League will remain a formality unless a stage of solutions is reached, and that the Arab League did not turn into an institution in the true sense.
He also praised at the same time the relations with Iran and Russia, saying that Syria chooses its friends well.
The Saudi state of frustration with the Syrian regime’s reaction to the Jordanian Initiative and the demands of the Arabs, the lack of progress in any pending file since Assad’s return to the Arab League, remaining at the same point and continuing the deterioration at various levels after the visit of the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, to Damascus On the 3rd of last July, appeared clearly in what was published by Saudi media, which has weight in the Kingdom.
According to an opinion article by analyst Rami al-Khalifa al-Ali, published by the Saudi Okaz newspaper on July 28, the Syrian regime did not explicitly and clearly express its approval of the horizon of the proposed Arab solution, which prompted the International community to doubt the possibility of Arab countries succeeding in convincing the regime of this inclusive framework.
The analyst referred to files stuck in the Syrian crisis, and said, “Saudi Arabia, like the Arab countries that drew a horizon for resolving the Syrian crisis, made tremendous efforts and worked to convince the International community of this solution (…) but if you do not help yourself, no one can help you.”
In another analytical piece by journalist Alia Mansour, published by Al-Majalla magazine on August 20, she considered that the stumbling of the Arab normalization process with the Assad regime does not seem surprising, basing her conclusion on a deterioration in the outstanding issues even from what they were (refugees, drugs, economic conditions and political solution).
The writer added that the regime in Damascus is no longer able to distinguish between the Arab desire to put out the fires and achieve a minimum level of regional stability, and a state of weakness.
The regime, which refused from the outset to engage in dialogue with the Syrian people and meet some of their demands because it does not want to appear as if it has retreated in front of popular demands, still considers that meeting some Arab demands may mean that it is in a state of weakness, so it exaggerates in refusing to offer anything to the Arab world.
Alia Mansour – Syrian-Lebanese journalist
In parallel with all these not-so-positive messages, the Arab Liaison Committee held its first meeting on May 15, with the participation of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Syrian regime.
It took place in Cairo, with the participation of the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, to discuss developments in the Syrian file, and to follow up on the implementation of the outputs of the Amman Consultative Meeting, as approved by the statement of the Jeddah Summit.
The meeting ended with a final statement that did not add anything new beyond agreeing on another meeting in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to set a date at a later time.
However, the UK-based Syrian journalist Ibrahim Hamidi, in an article he published on Al-Majalla, explained that the “Arab-Syrian track” underwent the first test at the Arab ministerial meeting in the Liaison Committee in Cairo.
According to Hamidi, the content of the Arab discussions with the Syrian Foreign Minister revealed a large gap and a very slow progress on the track.
He pointed out that Mekdad reluctantly agreed to receive a copy of the Arab-Jordanian paper in regard to the step-for-step approach, which included what was required and presented to Damascus. Mekdad received it on the condition that it was not binding.
No one expects an imminent revolution in the living conditions in Syria. The fruits of Arab engagement have not yet ripened, and Western sanctions will remain in place.
Ibrahim Hamidi – UK-based Syrian journalist
Abdullah bin Ghanem al-Qahtani, a retired Saudi major general and researcher in strategic and security studies, explained to Enab Baladi that Saudi Arabia does not deal with secondary issues but with the general strategy of the region, including the Syrian file, as Riyadh seeks to reach the minimum level to prepare the region for construction.
There seems to be no solution other than trying to start the first step, and the road is very long to rehabilitate this regime beyond that, as the issue is not related to the Assad family, but rather to the history and people of Syria, and nothing will continue as it is, according to the security expert.
Al-Qahtani considered the regime’s participation in Arab meetings normal at the present time, but it is not normal to expect anything from the government of the Syrian regime.
It is unnatural to expect anything from the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad. Whoever expects this government to have any positive aspect, positive influence, or an attempt to make a difference is delusional, because the Syrian state today is not what it was before 2010, and it will not return in the near term, if returned.
Abdullah bin Ghanem al-Qahtani – Strategic expert and retired Saudi General
Al-Qahtani pointed out that the regime does not control the Syrian state today, and “no one can give what they do not have “, and the drug file exceeds Assad’s ability to stop it, because it does not control the land, and whoever controls Damascus and protects the regime is Iran.
“All Arab political attempts to rid the Syrians of terrorism and militias are not currently applicable, as the weak cannot overpower the strong, and the regime’s government is the weakest link on the ground,” al-Qahtani says.
The Saudi expert also considered that the Arab attempts are an attempt at the first step or what precedes it for a next stage that is not close, and everything that the Jordanian Initiative mentioned is impossible for the regime to implement or achieve any part of it, even if gradually.
Al-Assad sees the relationship with Iran as strategic, and with the Arabs as formal, and there is a real trend expressed by what is happening on the ground led by regional and International parties and many militias leading the scene in Syria, according to al-Qahtani.
The clearly absent party is the Syrian regime, because the regime handed over Syria to these forces, brought in Iran and the Russians, opened the door for pretexts for the intervention of other parties, and unleashed the hands of the militias, and it will not be able to achieve breakthroughs in this framework even if the strongest pressures are applied to it, or the most important temptations are presented to it.
The Jordanian Initiative is not considered the only Arab track that has faltered or that has not made progress since its inception. The rapprochement with Turkey, the negotiations with the opposition through the halting of the Astana process, the failure to move to the alternative yet, and the talk of resuming the meetings of the Constitutional Committee are all slow-paced tracks that are not in line with the acceleration of the deterioration at various levels in Syria.
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