Arab League Welcomes Outcast Assad, Syria Back

Secretary-general says decision doesn't signal an end to the crisis
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 7, 2023 11:40 AM CDT
After 12-Year Suspension, Arab League to Readmit Syria
Delegates and foreign ministers of member states convene Sunday at Arab League headquarters in Cairo.   (Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)

The Arab League agreed Sunday to reinstate Syria, ending a 12-year suspension and taking another step toward bringing Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime regional pariah, back into the fold. Some influential league members remain opposed to reinstating Syria, chief among them Qatar, which did not send its foreign minister to Sunday's gathering. Thirteen out of the league's 22 member states sent their foreign ministers to the meeting in Cairo. But the decision represented a victory for Damascus, albeit a largely symbolic one, the AP reports. Given that Western sanctions against Assad's government remain in place, the return to the Arab League is not expected to lead to a quick release of reconstruction funds in the war-battered country.

Syria’s membership was suspended early on during the 2011 uprising against Assad's rule that was met by a violent crackdown and quickly turned into a civil war. The conflict has killed nearly a half-million people and displaced half of the country's prewar population of 23 million. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a televised statement that the decision, which will allow Assad to take part in the group's May 19 summit, is part of a gradual process of resolving the conflict. "This doesn't mean that the Syria crisis has been resolved, on the contrary," he said. "But it allows the Arab (states) for the first time in years to communicate with the Syrian government to discuss all the problems." Opponents of the move include the US, per Axios.

Aboul Gheit said this does not mean all Arab countries have normalized relations with Damascus. "These are sovereign decisions for each state individually," he said. Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous argued Sunday that Syria had been the victim of "misinformation and distortion campaigns launched by our enemies" for 12 years. Opponents of Assad saw the move toward normalization as a betrayal. Laila Kiki of the Syria Campaign, an international advocacy group, said the move "cruelly betrayed tens of thousands of victims of the regime's war crimes and granted Assad a green light to continue committing horrific crimes with impunity." The Arab League generally tries to reach agreements by consensus but sometimes opts for simple majorities. Sunday's session was held behind closed doors, and it was not immediately clear which countries had objected.

(More Syria stories.)

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