Assad’s presence at Arab-Islamic summit: A show-off opportunity at Gazans’ expense

Bashar al-Assad delivers his speech at the Arab-Islamic summit on Gaza in Saudi Arabia - November 11, 2023 (Saudi Alekhbariya TV channel/screenshot)

Bashar al-Assad delivers his speech at the Arab-Islamic summit on Gaza in Saudi Arabia - November 11, 2023 (Saudi Alekhbariya TV channel/screenshot)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

The plane of the head of the Syrian regime landed on November 10 in Riyadh where Bashar al-Assad participated in the emergency Arab summit on the Israeli escalation in the Gaza Strip. The man who seeks, along with the leaders of 51 other countries, to end the tragedy of the people of Gaza, had kept the Syrian file stuck in Damascus, forgetting all the requests and the Arab initiative to end the tragedy of the Syrian people.

The next day, al-Assad participated in the summit, which turned into a joint Arab-Islamic summit, after Riyadh merged the two summits, in coordination with the Arab League on the one hand, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the other hand.

A summit that brought al-Assad together for the first time since the outbreak of the revolution in Syria in 2011 in one hall, with presidents and leaders of countries that exchange political rivalry with his regime, in addition to being the second summit in which he has participated since 2010 (the Libya Sirte Summit), after the Jeddah Summit on May 19th.

Al-Assad delivered a late speech presented by the Saudi Foreign Minister, which lasted less than seven minutes, in which he criticized the Arab peace with Israel and considered it a failed peace.

He considered that the Israeli escalation in Gaza is a continuation of a 75-year-old context, 32 years of a “failed peace,” whose only absolute, irrefutable result is that “the Israeli entity has become more unjust, and the Palestinian situation has become more unjust, oppressive and miserable.”

“Neither the land has returned, nor the (Arab) right has returned, neither in Palestine nor in the Golan (Heights),” al-Assad added, and continued, “This situation has produced a political situation that more Arab meekness equals more Zionist ferocity towards us, and more of the hand extended (for peace) by us is met with more massacres against us.”

During the summit, al-Assad presented a summary of his position on the field developments that have been taking place in Gaza for more than five weeks, causing the death of about 12,000 Palestinians, confining the position to statements and blaming others, despite the calls of Hamas leaders and their “timid” criticism of the meager position of the “axis of resistance” in light of the wide scale of escalation.

A few missiles crossing the border from Lebanon towards the occupied territories did not change the equation on the ground.

The Syrian regime, in turn, is escalating the air attack on the opposition stronghold in northern Syria. Just as the talk about the return of the (occupied) land did not indicate who could return it, just as the call to stop any political track with Israel means other parties, including those united by “peace accords” with Israel for more than forty years, or through the Abraham Accords and other Arab countries moving towards it.

Routine attendance but not significant

In the face of the state of political disagreement regarding al-Assad’s political situation, the Arab-Islamic summit came to remake al-Assad as a “President” among the leaders of dozens of countries without paying attention to the political situation in Syria, allowing the exploitation of the Palestinian situation more than helping to alleviate this suffering.

Amer al-Sabaileh, Jordanian university professor and geopolitical expert, told Enab Baladi that al-Assad’s participation in the Arab-Islamic summit is a routine participation after returning to the Arab League.

It is an opportunity to appear and express an opinion and nothing more, as it is not possible to rely today on Syria’s participation in any solution presented, and this presence is no more than a routine procedure, and the regime’s invitation has nothing to do with what is happening on the ground, and if it had not participated in the Jeddah Summit, it would not have attended the Arabic-Islamic summit, according to al-Sabaileh.

For his part, Omar Alradad, a Jordanian strategic security lecturer and a former Intelligence general, ruled out that the Syrian regime would be part of a solution to an issue as large as what is happening in Gaza.

Alradad considered al-Assad’s presence as protocol, under Riyadh’s desire to show solidarity and a large political presence. The evidence is the participation of the Iranian president, Ibrahim Raisi, despite talks about Tehran pushing and implicating Hamas in the operation it launched on October 7 against the Israeli military bases and settlements in the Gaza envelope.

The presence of the Syrian regime will not have any effect on the Gaza issue or stopping the war due to its prior bias towards resistance, and Syria’s international presence today is ineffective, and al-Assad is demanding that the Arabs take positions at a time when he is unable to respond to successive Israeli strikes against the Syrian army, not just Iranian points.

Omar Alradad, Jordanian expert in strategic security

Alradad told Enab Baladi that the Syrian regime, like the Iranian regime, tried to present approaches regarding Zionism, Western support, and the United States, which are points that intersect with the Iranian president’s speech and serve the Syrian regime to get out of the political isolation it is experiencing.

This will not be achieved because the summit, in its Arab and Islamic dimensions, is tied to Gaza, and had it not been for Saudi Arabia’s desire to show unified positions, it would not have invited al-Assad, as he has not offered anything and has no role in Gaza outside Iranian spaces.

Greetings followed by disinterest

The Arab-Islamic summit produced a warm peace for al-Assad with the Jordanian King, Abdullah II, who took the initiative to shake al-Assad’s hand before taking a souvenir photo for the summit participants.

This Jordanian greeting was preceded by ceaseless attempts to smuggle and trade the Captagon drug from regime-controlled areas towards Jordan and the Gulf states, in addition to the Jordanian king’s earlier skepticism about al-Assad’s ability to control Syria.

On September 20, King Abdullah II made it clear that he was not sure whether al-Assad was fully responsible for the country in light of the major problem of drug and weapons smuggling into Jordan.

Like most Arab countries, Jordan has not progressed far in its relationship with the regime, despite its Foreign Minister, Ayman al-Safadi, making two visits to Damascus during the current year, the first of which carried a solidarity character after the February 6 earthquake, and the second to follow up on the path of the Jordanian (Amman) initiative supported and pushed by the Arabs.

The Syrian regime continues to obstruct the Jordanian initiative, with talk of obstructing the work of the Arab Ministerial Liaison Committee. The Lebanese Foreign Minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, said on October 8 that the Arab Liaison Committee began with enthusiasm, but there is intense Western pressure was placed on the committee not to give anything before the Syrian regime on the basis of, “It is enough that you have returned the Syrian government to the Arab League,” according to the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

Before greetings were exchanged between the Jordanian King and al-Assad, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stood close to al-Assad and exchanged a short conversation with the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, before returning to his place; between the two presidents, the Palestinian and the Iranian.

At the time al-Assad delivered his speech, Erdogan left the hall, leaving the Turkish representation to Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, who took off the translation headphones and was busy with his mobile phone as an expression of indifference.

Since late 2022, Ankara has opened a path of political rapprochement with the Syrian regime, and has held several meetings in this regard at intelligence and ministerial levels, sponsored by Moscow and with its participation alongside Tehran, but these meetings have receded after a surge that preceded the Turkish elections last May.

The elections were followed by a one and only meeting, which coincided with the meetings of the Syrian Constitutional Committee last June, in light of repeated Russian statements addressing the necessity of continuing the political path.

The meetings that have not yet led to Erdogan and al-Assad sitting at the same table, under mutual and fixed conditions for both parties, have not budged since the beginning of the rapprochement process.



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