Bringing Syria back in the Arab League is a positive first step

Re-initiating dialogue with Damascus is complex yet necessary to resolve issues in the region

Arab Leaders pose for a group photo ahead of the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, on May 19. The Egyptian Presidency/ Reuters
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At the Arab League Summit on Friday, a significant step aimed at bringing stability and security in the region was taken, with several countries participating in the process.

Saudi Arabia holds this year's presidency of the Arab League and efforts towards negotiating peace in the region were visible at the summit in the coastal city of Jeddah. The summit was attended by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, with the country readmitted into the League after more than a decade of exclusion due to the uprising and ensuing conflict.

Efforts to reintegrate Damascus into the bloc have been ongoing for months after the Arab world reached an understanding that inviting Mr Al Assad's government to the table was essential to begin the process of ending the Syrian crisis. The UAE, which re-established ties with Damascus in 2018, has been leading efforts to do so.

In an interview with The National last week, the Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said that despite a consensus among Arab countries about Syria had not been reached before the summit, “even the countries that have some reservations do not intend on being an obstacle”.

Seen in a broader context, the path to peace and eventual reconstruction of the country is neither quick, nor without its challenges. It is, ultimately, a process. And it is in the remit of forums such as the Arab League to initiate and further this process, no matter how complex, to resolve issues facing the region.

At the heart of efforts to restore ties with Damascus, resume a political process to unify the country and rebuild it, is the consideration of the Syrian people, those at home and in exile.

Since the onset of the Syrian conflict 12 years ago, about half of Syria's pre-war population of 22 million people were forced from their homes, including many who now live in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. The UN Refugee Agency registered about 6.66 million internally displaced people in Syria in 2021. An estimated half a million people have been killed and 3 million live with a disability.

Other challenges that must be dealt with for Syria to finally have a stable future include the need for security apparatus reform, tackling the presence of myriad proxy militias, sponsored by competing powers and the influence of malign actors within the country. Another important step is curbing the smuggling of drugs, notably Captagon, from Syria. These have harmed people in other parts of the Arab world,

By re-opening dialogue with Damascus, the Arab League's objective is to begin to find solutions for such pressing concerns. Syria is an integral part of the Arab world, and holds political, historical and cultural significance. The attempt to mend rifts could bring long-overdue respite to the people of Syria and give them the opportunity to make a safe and dignified future, as is their right.

Mr Al Assad has signalled his willingness to accept the Arab League's terms for his country's conditional return to the bloc. But the hard part begins now, particularly as not everyone in the bloc is on the same page as far as the Syrian government is concerned. However, rehabilitating the country and the Syrian people, is a common objective – one that will have long-term consequences not just for Syria, but for the Middle East as a whole. While the path ahead may not be easy, to set off on it is necessary.

Published: May 22, 2023, 2:00 AM
Updated: May 24, 2023, 7:25 AM