The Arab League's decision to readmit Syria on Sunday is a game changer in the Middle East, a clear success for Saudi diplomacy and an apparent win for Russia.
The unanimous decision issued by foreign ministers of the 22-member league is another sign of the strengthening illiberal bloc which challenges the West's democracy agenda. It draws the curtain for good on what remained of the dreams of the Arab Spring a decade ago, after Tunisia under President Kais Saied has also embraced authoritarianism of late. The Arab League had suspended Damascus in late 2011 over the government's bloody crackdown on protests.
In Lebanon, Suleiman Frangieh, a close ally of Damascus, is one of the contenders for the next presidential election, and in northwestern Syria, the territories controlled by Islamist rebels could be at risk if President Recep Tayyip Erdogan loses the coming elections this weekend. As for the autonomous statelet in Syrian Kurdistan, its leaders have already made overtures to Damascus to negotiate whatever autonomy they might preserve in the future — should Western special forces withdraw from their bases in the northeast.
Assad, whose downfall was routinely predicted as imminent by many Western pundits a decade ago, has now come back on the front stage with a vengeance. Just like his father Hafiz al-Assad, he used the centrality of his country in the fragmented and sectarian Levant as the key to his resilience, playing friends and foes alike against each other.