Decades of relations between the UAE and Syria resume

As the UAE embassy reopens in Damascus, we look back on the relationship between the UAE and Syria

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Almost exactly 12 years ago, Bashar Al Assad stood over the tomb of the UAE’s Founding Father at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Mr Al Assad said a prayer and wrote about Sheikh Zayed’s “great values of humanity, generosity and fraternity” in the mosque’s VIP visitor book.

A year later, President Sheikh Khalifa made an official two-day visit to the Syrian capital for talks with Mr Al Assad on relations between the countries and regional affairs.

They discussed opportunities for reciprocal investments. At the time, trade between the two countries was valued at about $254 million, and was only expected to increase.

It was Sheikh Khalifa’s second visit to the country after the death of Hafez Al Assad, the late president.

The following year, Mr Al Assad visited Abu Dhabi again, this time meeting Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

The Syrian Ambassador to the UAE said the meeting underscored the warmth of relations between the two countries.

It was a sign of fast-developing relations and the potential for a strong partnership – but just three years later the political landscape across the Middle East would change as civil war broke out in Syria.


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The UAE was among the countries to close their embassies in Damascus. As the crisis worsened and security deteriorated in Syria in August 2012, Etihad Airways suspended its three flights a day to Damascus.

Syrian Air continued to operate from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and Syrian consular services continued to operate in the UAE, indicating relations were not completely cut off.

The following year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said the UAE was dedicated to support Syrians and their aspirations to return security and stability to their country.

But he made it clear that the Emirates did not support Mr Al Assad’s government.

Despite this, the UAE remained steadfast in its humanitarian support for the Syrian people. Since 2012, it has provided more than $530m in humanitarian aid and development assistance.

And in January 2015, the UAE pledged another $100m in support of Syrian refugees, of which about $44m has been distributed.

This year, the UAE’s political perspective on Syria began to change. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said it was no longer possible to stabilise the country with a military response.

“Our position on the Syrian crisis is very clear: a few years ago we had a choice, to support Bashar Assad or the opposition, which was joined by jihadists and even many terrorist elements, and we chose to be somewhere between,” Dr Gargash said.

“We confirm the need for a political solution in Syria.”

While many countries had previously stated that there would be no end to the Syrian conflict if Mr Al Assad remained in power, reopening the UAE embassy in Damascus on Thursday, with more countries expected to follow suit, shows that governments have accepted that the Assad regime is here to stay.