Saudi Arabia and Syria announced on Tuesday May 9 the return of their diplomatic representations to each other, after eleven years of Riyadh’s break with the Damascus regime, isolated due to the civil war which ravaged the country. country.
The oil-rich Gulf monarchy has recently moved closer to Syria as well as Iran, a major supporter of President Bashar Al Assad.
“Saudi Arabia has decided to resume the work of its diplomatic mission in Syria,” the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency. Riyadh seeks to “develop joint Arab action”, he said.
Shortly after, Damascus issued a parallel announcement: “The Syrian Arab Republic has decided to resume the activities of its diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia,” said the Syrian state agency SANA, citing a source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The decision of Saudi Arabia, leader of the Gulf countries and regional heavyweight, comes two days after the reintegration of Syria into the Arab League, announced Sunday in Cairo.
Damascus was expelled from the pan-Arab organization in 2011 because of the bloody repression of a popular uprising, triggered in the wake of the Arab Springs, which degenerated into a civil war.
Involving regional and international actors, the war claimed around half a million lives. Nearly half of Syrians are now refugees or internally displaced, and swathes of the territory still escape government control.
Gathered in Cairo, the heads of Arab diplomacy voted unanimously on Sunday for the Syrian delegation to “seat again in the Arab League”. President Assad himself is now “welcome if he wants to” on May 19 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the organization’s annual summit of heads of state, said its secretary general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. .
For its part, Damascus had indicated that it wanted to “strengthen cooperation” while the regime is betting on normalization, in particular with the rich monarchies of the Gulf, to finance the costly reconstruction of a fragmented country with devastated infrastructure.
Bashar Al Assad had recently come out of his persona non grata status, benefiting in particular from a surge of global solidarity in February after an earthquake that devastated large regions of Syria and Turkey.
The Syrian president also pulled out of the regional game thanks to the unexpected rapprochement between two great rivals, Riyadh and Tehran, his loyal support. The Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Faisal ben Farhane, even made an unprecedented visit to Damascus in mid-April, where he was received by Bashar Al Assad.
In this context of regional warming, Turkey is also beginning to reconnect with the Syrian regime, the foreign ministers of the two countries to meet on Wednesday in Russia, another power very close to Bashar Al Assad.
The angry opposition
But in Doha, the Syrian opposition is fuming. “Crimes cannot be rewarded by a return to the table of Arab countries,” lamented Tuesday in a press release Bilal Turkia, representative of the Syrian opposition in Qatar. According to him, the return of Syria to the Arab League gives “a green light to more brutality on the part of this regime whose behavior will not change”.
Opposed to normalization with Bashar Al Assad, like the United States and European powers, Qatar is home to the only Syrian embassy run by the opposition.
For Washington, Syria “does not deserve to be readmitted to the Arab League”. “Our position is clear: we have no intention of normalizing relations with Bashar Al Assad and his regime,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Washington.
Same story for London. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, speaking alongside Antony Blinken, said he was “very uncomfortable” with the Arab League’s decision: “brutality against the Syrian people cannot not be ignored. And the UK is certainly not going to sweep that under the rug.”
In addition to Saudi Arabia, many other Arab countries have taken steps towards Damascus, in particular the United Arab Emirates but also Egypt, Oman and Tunisia.