Syria was readmitted to the Arab League on Sunday. The move marks a major milestone for the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad as it seeks to come in from the cold, resume normal relations and attract economic investments.
The decision to readmit Syria after 12 years was made at an Arab League emergency meeting in Cairo, less than two weeks before a summit in Saudi Arabia on May 19. With the admittance, Assad is now expected to attend the Riyadh summit.
Further details, including how individual member states voted, were not immediately clear. The Associated Press reported that 13 states attended (out of 21) and that the vote was unanimous. Details remained unclear at the time of this writing whether any conditions were set for Assad on the return of refugees, drug smuggling and a political process. Washington has been pushing Arab partners to extract tangibles from Assad before readmitting him to the Arab League
Background: Syria's membership was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 following the government’s violent crackdown on protests that led to the ongoing civil war. Many Arab League member states suspended relations with Syria at the time and supported Syrian rebel groups.
The tide of the war has turned toward Assad after intervention from both Iranian proxies and Russia in the conflict, rendering the armed opposition to a northern enclave in Idlib. This, along with the refugee crisis, drug smuggling and rise of extremist organizations in Syria, prompted countries in the region to start reaching out to Damascus. The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018, and along with Jordan, began pushing for other countries to normalize relations.
The Syria normalization push has gained significant momentum recently. In April, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan traveled to Syria, and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad likewise visited Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia also hosted a meeting in Riyadh last month on Syria’s return to the Arab League.
Last week, Jordan hosted Arab diplomats for a meeting on Syria’s return to the bloc.
Know more: The Arab League’s emergency meeting was also called in order to discuss the ongoing conflict in Sudan. Also on Sunday, the Arab League said that Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit received a letter from Sudan’s transitional government calling on him to urge the Sudanese armed forces and the rival Rapid Support Forces to stop fighting, per a press release.
What’s next: The debate on reconstruction in Syria hindered by sanctions, Arab economic incentives for Assad as well as the return of the refugees is set to follow.