Over a decade after being expelled due to its brutal repression of pro-democracy protests leading to a civil war, Syria has been reinstated into the influential Arab League. The move signals a thaw in relations between Damascus and other Arab governments and precedes a summit in Saudi Arabia later this month, which President Bashar al-Assad may attend.
The US and UK have criticised the decision, with a state department spokesman stating that Syria does not deserve reinstatement but that the US supports the Arab League’s objective of resolving the Syrian crisis. Lord Ahmad, the UK’s Minister of State Foreign Commonwealth & Development Affairs, declared the UK’s continued opposition to engaging with the Assad regime, asserting that Mr Assad persists in detaining, torturing, and killing innocent Syrians.
The decision to readmit Syria was taken during a meeting of foreign ministers from 13 of the 22-nation group’s members in Cairo, who emphasised the need to end Syria’s civil war and address the resulting refugee and drug smuggling crises. A committee involving Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq will be established to aid Syria in achieving these goals. The Arab League’s secretary general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, emphasised that the decision does not equate to a resumption of relationships between Arab states and Syria and that such decisions will be made by individual countries.
Displaced Syrians in the rebel-held area of Idlib have expressed shock at the Arab League’s decision. Meanwhile, Arab moves to restore ties with Syria have accelerated since the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria in February, with foreign ministers from Egypt and Saudi Arabia visiting Syria and Tunisia restoring full diplomatic relations.