Leftist Egyptian party looks to bolster ties with Assad

Western powers demand “accountability for the atrocities committed by the Assad regime” in a statement, as Egypt's National Progressive Unionist Party is boosting its efforts to return Syria to its full standing in the Arab world.

al-monitor Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russia 24 in Damascus, Syria, seen in a handout released by SANA on March 5, 2020.  Photo by SANA/Handout via REUTERS.

Mar 17, 2020

CAIRO — Egypt's National Progressive Unionist Party is leading a campaign to fully restore Cairo's diplomatic ties with Damascus and pressure the Arab League to reinstate Syria.

Egypt's State Information Service website identifies the party as one of Egypt's most prominent leftist parties. In 2018, the party supported President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for a second term, and Sisi named party leader Sayed Abdel-Al one of the 28 public figures the president may appoint as parliament members.

This month, the party held a conference titled “Syria Achieves Victory" at its headquarters. During his speech there, Abdel-Al affirmed his party stands with Syria in its struggle against terrorist gangs, by which he meant the forces fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Bassam Darwish, Syrian charge d’affaires in Cairo, also gave a speech at the conference, praising the steadfastness of the Syrian regime's army and its commanders for fighting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's forces in the north.

The Trump Administration, for its part, remains opposed to any reconciliation with the Syrian government, despite some tentative steps made by several Arab countries. In a statement commemorating the ninth anniversary of the Syrian uprising, the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany noted that they “continue to demand accountability for the atrocities committed by the Assad regime and we will continue our efforts to make sure that those who are responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other violations and abuses are identified and held accountable.”

Given the close ties between Washington and Cairo, it’s hard to see this effort getting very far, given the Trump Administration’s opposition.

The National Progressive Unionist Party rejected the 2013 decision of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to cut ties with Syria. In recent years, the party has organized a number of public activities and seminars in support of Syria.​

In a message addressed to the leaders of the Arab world participating in the March 2019 Arab Summit in Tunisia, the party said, “We accept nothing less than Syria's return to the Arab League. The league must assume its role in relieving the pain and healing the wounds suffered by Syria’s land and people.”

Immediately after Turkey announced its military intervention in northern Syria, a delegation from the National Progressive Unionist Party paid a solidarity visit to the Syrian Embassy in Cairo on Oct. 16. During a meeting with Darwish, the party's delegation stressed that Syria had conquered internationally supported terrorism and could likewise protect itself against Turkish aggression.

In January, the party organized a series of seminars denouncing Turkey’s ambitions in Syria and Libya. In early February, the party again stressed the urgent need for the Arab League to return the Syrian state to its seat at the table. In a statement, the National Progressive Unionist Party said it "rejects Arab and international silence in the face of the continued aggression and bullying practiced by the Turkish regime forces in northern Syria.”

Farida Al-Naqash, a journalist, writer and party leader, recently affirmed that the party believes in the need to support Syria against “the invaders, Turks and colonial ambitions.” Speaking to Al-Monitor, she said, “The party is seeking to mobilize the Egyptian public to support the Syrian army through seminars and through its official newspaper. We have always called for the full return of Egyptian-Syrian diplomatic relations.”

She explained, “The Egyptian state agrees to the party’s activities to support the Syrian army. The state also approves of our visit to the Syrian Embassy. We operate in accordance with Egyptian foreign policy in support of regular armies against Turkish militants, militias and ambitions.”

Naqash added, “It is time for Syria to return to the Arab League, and it will do so soon. Egypt has no objection to that. This is despite external pressures persuading some Arab countries not to restore diplomatic relations with Syria, according to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

In March 3 statements to Russia 24 news channel, Assad noted that most Arab countries have maintained their relations with Syria without declaring it publicly, for fear of Western pressure.

Abdel-Hamid Kamal, a parliament member for the party, told Al-Monitor, “Egyptian parties must adopt the approach of the National Progressive Unionist Party in dealing with the Syrian issue. They must support the Syrian Arab Army against the Western/Turkish conspiracy.”

He added, “The party’s parliamentarians are positively supporting Syria in all events and activities. These aim to rebuke the Western lies aimed at distorting the movements of the Syrian Arab Army.”

Like others who spoke with Al-Monitor, Kamal emphasized the importance of restoring Syria's membership in the Arab League and said his party does not depart from the Egyptian state’s foreign policy, especially regarding Syria.

Editor's note: March 18, 2020. This article was updated to include a joint statement by the US, UK, France and Germany.

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