Yesterday Feb. 27, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Damascus, the first trip by a top Egyptian envoy to Syria since 2011. This new development is looked at as one in a series of indications of possible Arab normalization with the regime of Bashar Assad. To understand the significance of this event, one needs to view the full picture.
For some supporters of Arabs’ normalization with Assad, this is necessary to take him gradually away from Iran and the “axis of resistance”. They look at Assad’s formal visit on Feb. 20 to the Sultanate of Oman as a move in this direction. They also believe that it is high time to contain his regime under the umbrella of the Arab League and later world organizations to help Assad stand on his feet and be independent of any direct external forces for his survival, and this can be done through building diplomatic bridges with him and providing financial assistance to his state.
“Assad’s visit to Oman has significance only in form, not in nature, and amounts to nothing more than media propaganda“Ariana Scorpoli
At face value, this could be partially true in the case of the UAE (or even Bahrain) as it declares publicly that it is not in good terms with Iran and that it is not happy with the Mullahs’ presence and influence in Syria. The recent visit of its foreign minister to Syria, his inspection of some earthquake-stricken areas and sending a large amount of aid to Assad and not his opponents, all of this could be in line with this theory as Assad himself visited UAE almost a year ago.
But as a matter of fact, Assad’s visit to Oman has significance only in form, not in nature, and amounts to nothing more than media propaganda. It is well known by now that Oman is not in any form of animosity with Iran and is not keen on alienating Assad from the Tehran circle. On the contrary, Oman has continued to be on good terms with the Assad regime for the past 12 years though these relations were sometimes not at high-ranking levels, and at other times taking place under the table.
“The counter argument says that the U.S. sanctions on the regime apply to the U.S. only as it does not have the authority to force other countries to adopt these sanctions”Ariana Scorpoli
For some conspiracy theorists, this visit is a challenge to the international will especially the U.S. which is supposed to be imposing sanctions on the Assad regime, the latest of which is the Captagon Act, or is there a hidden coordination under the table between these regimes under the American auspices. For them, it is hard to believe that such Arab states can challenge the American will or even wish, let alone clear-cut laws and acts.
The counter argument says that the U.S. sanctions on the regime apply to the U.S. only as it does not have the authority to force other countries to adopt these sanctions. All other countries that have sanctions have them because they issued them themselves. Neither the U.S. sanctions nor the Captagon Act have anything to do with Oman? Since Oman never did express any animosity towards Assad, how is this show of “reestablishing relations” an act of defiance against the U.S.? There are no clear-cut U.S. laws or acts that affect Oman.
The Captagon Act at this point is simply an act that was passed by Congress that authorizes the formation of a Congressional committee for coming up with a strategy for disrupting and bringing an end to the drug trade of Bashar Assad. Since the strategy has not even been created yet no actions have been taken so far and since the wheels of the U.S. government grind slowly, it will be a surprise if any action is taken in the near future.
“Assad cannot go back to the Arab League without a Saudi green light, or at least an orange one. If this happens, then it is a game-changer“Ariana Scorpoli
Still, these are those who believe that the above counter-argument is logical on paper, but in practice, in the Middle East, the facts on the ground speak volumes. For them, all that is taking place in the region is according to a plan endorsed by the U.S. and is implemented by the parties that have strong historical relations with it. The Gulf countries have not for once been away from America’s dos and don’ts. So far, Assad’s movements would not have been possible without an American tacit approval, if not encouragement, but his next visit (where and when) will say it all.
Still, the real indicator of a serious Arab normalization, and by default an international one, with Assad is Saudi Arabia’s position as it has been for the past decade the compass for where the region is heading. Assad cannot go back to the Arab League without a Saudi green light, or at least an orange one. If this happens, then it is a game-changer.