Bashar al-Assad, Ahmed Kattan and one hopeless case

It is impossible for the two wings of the Arab nation, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Turkey to accept a settlement with Assad

Jamal Khashoggi

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What distinguished Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt, Ahmed Kattan, during his meeting with the editors-in-chief of Egyptian newspapers last Tuesday, and was lost amid press coverage and headlines that focused mainly on his statements regarding this or that author? He categorically denied any Saudi visit to a Syrian official, and gave assurances that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “won’t be part of any future solution.”

This timely statement is very important, especially in Cairo, after Egyptian media claimed that the kingdom had changed its politics regarding the Syrian crisis, and was ready to accept a temporary role for Assad and to stop assisting the opposition in order to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Islamists. Journalist Mustafa Bakri, who is familiar with the Egyptian government, and other Egyptian journalists did the same.

They defamed the Saudi role in Syria, but Kattan has resolved the matter: Assad will have nothing to do with any Saudi project to save Syria. The kingdom prefers a peaceful solution and the resumption of the Geneva process, and considers the Syrian army an ideological weapon that is killing its people, contrary to the Egyptian army, which deserves recognition for operating freely and protecting its people.

Leaks and conspiracies

This Saudi position was disrupted last week due to leaks that Russian intelligence planned a meeting between Saudi and Syrian officials for the first time since the estrangement between the two countries at the end of 2011.

It is impossible for the two wings of the Arab nation, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Turkey to accept a settlement with Assad

Jamal Khashoggi

Based on this information, analysts fabricated scenarios in which the kingdom would abandon the Syrian people in their fight for freedom. Others even said Riyadh was concluding a deal with Iran under Russian mediation and American approval based on a “Syria-for-Yemen” equation. However, Kattan, who played a commendable role, has denied that in an important statement.

Before his denial, all those hypotheses promoted by Hezbollah and Iran’s media, and unfortunately Egypt’s also, were enhanced by talk of a Russian initiative leading to an alliance between major regional powers: the Gulf states, Turkey and Egypt. Assad would join them, as if nothing had happened, in order to fight ISIS. Iran and the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces would be part of that impossible alliance too.

However, on the same night of that alleged meeting, Qatari newspaper Al-Arab reported that “the Gulf states headed by Saudi Arabia rejected the initiative of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to form a regional alliance and get the Gulf states and Turkey together with the Assad regime in order to fight extremist groups and most importantly ISIS.”

Standing by Syria

It is a logical refutation of an illogical idea that should not have been promoted in the first place. If implemented, Riyadh would not only have abandoned its moral stand with the Syrian people, but also neglected its national security by giving up Syria for the benefit of Iran.

Any regime getting out of Syria after such a concession would not only be an ally of Iran, but a subordinate. This would cause a serious security breach not only in Saudi Arabia but also in Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.

Those who agree to giving Assad even a transitory role in Syria are unrealistic. He went from being a head of state to a mere sectarian militia leader no different than Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohamed al-Julani, or self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria. Nonetheless, Assad has an air force and relations with a few states. His rotten regime is a hopeless case. No one can blow life into it again.

It is impossible for the two wings of the Arab nation, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Turkey to accept a settlement with Assad. As the Saudi ambassador said in Cairo: “Assad is now a thing of the past.” Well done.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on August 10, 2015.


Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi

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