President’s assistance Bashar al-Assad An Arab summit in Saudi Arabia on Friday is the result of sweeping policy changes by Arab states that previously supported their opponents in the civil war in Syria. Here is an overview of the main Arab players’ policies towards Syria and Assad and how they have changed:
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia came out forcefully against Assad early in the conflict, reflecting concerns about the regional influence of its Shiite ally, Iran. Riyadh provided the Sunni rebels with weapons, money, and political support as the insurgency spread.
The support has been a point of rivalry with another Persian Gulf state, Qatar, which has backed Islamist groups that espouse ideologies that Riyadh views with suspicion. Saudi Arabia has sought to support other groups. He also worked with the United States on a program of support for the rebels, which Washington considers moderate.
But Saudi officials have also criticized US policy on Syria: in 2013, the then prince was the intelligence chief. Bandar Bin SultanAccording to European diplomats, the United States has not acted effectively against Assad.
In 2014, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said that Assad and those with “blood on their hands” could not participate in the transition, and that all foreign fighters, including Hezbollah, should withdraw from Syria.
In 2016, former Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that Assad would not rule Syria in the future and that Russian military intervention would not help him stay in power.
While some Arab countries have reversed course on Assad, notably the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia has shown no sign of bringing him out in the cold. However, this has changed in recent months, especially after Riyadh and Tehran agreed to restore relations in a Chinese-brokered deal.
Iranian influence in Syria remains a source of concern for Riyadh. Like other Arab countries, Saudi Arabia also hopes that Assad will curb drugs smuggled from Syria.
Assad met Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Damascus last month. Official Saudi media said they had discussed the necessary steps for a political solution to the war that would preserve its Arab identity and return it to its “Arab environment”.
The State of Qatar
Doha’s strong support for the Syrian opposition was echoed in its support for the riots Arab Spring It swept the Middle East in 2011, including Egypt, where it supported the Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2013, at an Arab summit in Doha, the Syrian opposition leaders took Syria’s seat after the Emir of Qatar asked his fellow Arab leaders to invite them to represent the country.
Much of Qatar’s support has gone to Islamist rebels considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood. His allies worried that the weapons would fall into the hands of extremists.
Qatar has always denied supporting militant groups with links to al Qaeda. Qatari mediation helped secure the release of several hostages held in Syria by the Al-Nusra Front, which for years was the official al-Qaeda affiliate in the conflict. Qatar has also participated in US-backed efforts to support the rebels, who are considered moderate.
In 2018, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al ThaniHe said the region could not tolerate a “war criminal” like Assad. Qatar said that the original basis for suspending Syria from the Arab League still exists, and renewed Doha’s stance against normalization with Syria unless there is a political solution. However, he withdrew his opposition to Saudi Arabia’s move to re-admit Syria to the Arab body, saying that it would not stand in the way of Arab consensus.
The United Arab Emirates
The UAE once backed some anti-Assad rebels, but its role has been less prominent than that of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and focused mainly on ensuring that Islamist forces did not take over the rebellion.
Abu Dhabi led the way to bring Assad back into the Arab fold after driving out rebels in most of Syria, with the help of Russia and Iran. Reasons for the re-engagement, which raised U.S. objections, included trying to counter the influence of non-Arab Iran and Turkey in Syria.
The UAE foreign minister’s visit to Damascus in late 2021 was followed the following year by a trip to the Emirates for Assad, his first visit to an Arab country since the war began. Al-Assad visited again in March, accompanied by his wife, Asma al-Assad. The United Arab Emirates invited Assad to the COP28 climate summit, which it will organize at the end of the year.
Jordan, Syria’s southern neighbor, has also supported rebels fighting Assad, but its policy has been largely defined by concerns about the security of its borders and preventing southern Syria from becoming a haven for hardline Islamist militants.
They set up military operations rooms under the supervision of Western powers, which provided limited support to the rebels, who adopted a nationalist rather than an Islamist agenda.
This helped rebel groups control much of the south until 2018, when Russian-backed government forces drove them out of the area. Jordan facilitated talks between opposition factions and Moscow on an agreement that would restore state rule in the region.
Jordan’s King Abdullah said at the start of the conflict that he would resign if he were in Assad’s position, after mass protests against his rule. But Jordan did not officially cut ties with Syria.