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Qatar emir skips Assad's Arab League speech in Saudi Arabia

The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt publicly praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s participation in the summit after Syria was readmitted to the Arab League.

Arab leaders gathered in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Friday for the annual Arab League summit. Many of them welcomed Syria’s participation, which resumed for the first time in a decade, but Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani notably did not attend the speech by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and left the summit beforehand, seemingly in protest.

Sheikh Tamim arrived in Jeddah on Friday morning, a day after the Syrian leader. Assad addressed the summit at around 1 pm local time with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, the State of Palestine and other member states in the audience. 

However, at almost the exact time Assad began his speech, the official Qatar News Agency reported that the Qatari Emir had left Jeddah.



Qatar has been a fierce critic of the Assad government since the start of the conflict in 2011. The Gulf state lent its support to the Syrian opposition, advocated Assad's ouster from the Arab League in 2011, and was hesitant to readmit Syria into the organization earlier this month. Doha maintains a diplomat boycott of Damascus even as Arab countries and Turkey are attempting to normalize relations with Assad.

For his part Assad has accused Qatar of supporting armed and Islamists groups in Syria . 

In his speech at the summit, Assad said he hopes for increased cooperation among Arab countries "with the least amount of foreign intervention.”

“I hope [the summit] forms the beginning of a new stage of Arab action for solidarity between us, for peace in our region, for development and prosperity as opposed to war destruction,” he said.

Assad refrained from criticizing Arab governments, but did lash out against Israel and Turkey, referencing the “crimes of the Zionist entity against the Palestinian people” as well as the "danger of the Ottoman expansionist mentality.”

Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also started working to repair its strained ties with the Syrian government. Turkey supports Syrian rebel groups that control parts of northern Syria, much to the chagrin of Assad.

Many other Arab leaders welcomed Syria and Assad’s return to the Arab League in their speeches. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who chaired the summit, specifically praised Assad for attending.

“We are pleased today with the presence of President Bashar al-Assad at this summit and the issuance of the Arab League's decision regarding the resumption of the participation of the Syrian government's delegations in the meetings of the Arab League,” said Prince Mohammed. “We hope that this will support the stability of Syria, the return of things to normal and the resumption of its usual role in the Arab nation.”

Saudi Arabia severed relations with Syria in 2012 and formally resumed them shortly before the summit following Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal visiting Damascus and meeting with Assad in April.

Saudi Arabia also resumed relations with longtime foe Iran in March, and is embracing more diplomatic foreign policy, in an attempt to end the war in Yemen and restore Riyadh's regional soft power.

Jordan’s King Abdullah likewise praised Syria rejoining the Arab League. “We welcome Syria’s return to the Arab League as an important step that we hope will contribute to efforts to end the crisis,” he said.

Jordan never formally cut off relations with Syria, but did support rebel groups in the south early on in the civil war. In 2021, Assad and Abdullah spoke on the phone for the first time in a decade. More recently, Jordan hosted a summit earlier this month to discuss Syria’s return to the Arab League.

Jordan is seeking increased trade with Syria, which remains under US and European sanctions. Jordan and Saudi Arabia also both want to curb the flow of drugs from Syria to Jordan.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi likewise welcomed Syria’s participation, saying it “marks a practical activation of an Arab role in finding a resolution to the Syrian crisis.”

Know more: President of the United Arab Emirates Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan notably did not attend the summit, sending Vice President Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan instead. His absence follows reports of a rift between the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Surprisingly, Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy came to Saudi Arabia for the summit in an effort to improve relations. Zelenskyy thanked Arab states for supporting Ukraine at the international level, but also accused unspecified regional states of “turning a blind eye” to Russia’s invasion.

Syria is a strong rally of Russia and publicly backed last year’s invasion.

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