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On normalising relations with Bashar

November 19, 2021 at 9:14 am

UAE Foreign Minister, Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan meets Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus on 9 November 2021 [Emirates News Agency WAM]

The visit of the Emirati foreign minister to Damascus opened the door wide open to analysis and speculation. While the media consider this visit a recognition by the “coalition countries” of President Bashar Al-Assad’s victory over his people, it latter seeks to present the matter as part of a vision for a solution based on the principle of the “step for step” approach mentioned in the Jordanian document known as the “No paper”.

The idea of the “No paper” is based on the premise that Bashar’s regime is going through great distress, mainly economic with political dimensions, as well as a crisis of governance that is manifested in the regime’s inability to rule normally. This document finds this to be a suitable basis for tempting the regime with incentives “it cannot refuse” to obtain concessions in return for it changing its behaviour.

On the other hand, the regime does not object to receiving incentives, especially in the media, such as normalisation and opening channels of communication with yesterday’s opponents. It is useful for it to claim that the “others” have realised their mistake and “returned to Damascus”! In other words: Normalisation is useful in emphasising that the regime was (and still is) right in the war it waged against the people, and that it is the conclusive evidence of its victory is the recognition of its opponents before its allies.

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However, if abstract normalisation – i.e. media normalisation – leads to practical measures such as obtaining economic aid or investments in vital sectors such as electricity or fuel, or activating foreign trade, then these are rewards that the regime has no objection to accepting. As for expecting a price in return for this, this is something contrary to what is in the mind of the regime and its logic. When did making things right become a debt that must be paid? Especially if the price is a violation of “national sovereignty”, such as demanding the expulsion of the Iranians and their militias, the release of detainees, the disclosure of the fate of the missing, or facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid to the “terrorist” areas of “terrorists”, or the biggest sin of all: proceeding with a political solution in accordance with Security Council resolutions under the umbrella of the UN.

Assad and the Syrian regime committed war crimes- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Assad and the Syrian regime committed war crimes- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Who said that there is a political problem in Syria in the first place? Terrorism has been defeated, the economy has taken off, as we understood from Bashar’s speech at the beginning of his fourth term, the rebuilding of the infrastructure that was destroyed by the terrorists is underway, according to the regime’s media, and the people said their word in the last presidential elections, by voting by an overwhelming majority for Bashar Al-Assad, thus expressing their support for his “wise leadership” and the renewal of his confidence in him. The participation of a “national delegation” (which does not represent the Syrian government and does not bind it to anything) in the meetings of the so-called Constitutional Committee in Geneva is only to satisfy the Russian ally and help it pretend to search for a “political solution” and to respond to the allegations and accusations of the “other delegation” and thwart its plans.

In 2009, the Saudi monarch came to Damascus, after an estrangement that lasted many years due to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, and from there they moved together to Beirut. The visit was an incentive for Bashar Al-Assad, from the Saudi point of view, to facilitate the formation of the Lebanese government. The response of Al-Assad and Hezbollah, with Iran behind them, was to disrupt the Lebanese parliament.

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As for Western countries, their problem with the Assad regime is summed up in the issue of the refugee crisis. Even the desire of the Americans to limit Iranian influence in Syria seems to have receded, according to what was recently leaked by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. If these countries are seeking concessions from the regime in exchange for incentives, their goal is for the regime to provide, by changing its behaviour towards its subjects, albeit slightly, to create an environment suitable for the return of refugees to Syria. But who said that the regime does not deal with the issue of refugees as a weapon brandished in the face of the countries hosting them, so that they acquiesce to its conditions, so that it accepts their apology and normalise relations with it? This is what it is doing with the UAE and Jordan now. In September, Amnesty International documented how the regime’s intelligence services receive returnees to Syria with torture, rape and murder as a result of torture. This treatment is not just revenge for those who left the country during the years of revolution and war, but also a message to the Western countries that they do not want the refugees to return, and that the most that these countries can wish for is to reduce the flow of new refugees if they provide them with appropriate incentives, not to stop them completely.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 17 November 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.