In a region full of conflicting and varied interests, surprising incidents and situations occur almost by the hour. That’s the least that can be said regarding news reports from Damascus stipulating that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has met Bashar al-Assad after arriving on a Russian military plane.
In fact, the surprises of the Sudanese president himself seem to never end. He allowed Israeli aircrafts to pass through Sudanese airspace, as it’s alleged, and handed over the Sudanese Suakin Island to Turkey in a bid to revive its Ottoman legacy by building a tourist project on the Red Sea.
Despite the importance of Arab cohesion in principle, it should be known that Bashar Al Assad’s regime is not committed to it in the first placeAmal Abdulaziz Al-Hazani
The recent move by Bashir is not the first move of its kind by an Arab head of state and most probably it will not be the last. There has been news about Arab delegations secretly visiting Damascus in recent years, especially after Russian intervention, in an attempt to help Assad jump over the fence, which Arab countries have imposed against him since November 2011, i.e. nine months after his brutal confrontation of Syrians opposing his governance.
The Arab Parliament recently called on the Arab League to allow the participation of Syrian delegations in the League’s committees, as a preparatory step towards lifting the suspension of the Assad regime from the Arab League. This is a major recommendation that would require broad Arab consent.
Having said that, all these givens are meaningless when it comes to the facts that cannot be changed by visits, intercessions, initiatives or recommendations. The facts are that the Assad regime still does not take the UN and its envoy Staffan de Mistura’s peace plan seriously – the plan that proposes a political solution represented in a constitutional commission, a transitional phase and elections. Apparently, Assad did not survive seven tough years to surrender to a fair democratic dispensation, which he has never acknowledged, especially after he finds himself victorious against the terrorist militias — ISIS and others— and as he accepts the Israelis’ desires to meet their demands about keeping Iranian militias away from the Golan Heights.
Despite the importance of Arab cohesion in principle, it should be known that Bashar Al Assad’s regime is not committed to it in the first place. His statements to the Sudanese president that he still believes in Arabism are mere remnants of the past’s nationalist Arabist rhetoric. On the ground, Assad has willfully chosen to be under the guardianship of the Russians and Persians, while his Arabism is merely part of his rhetoric.
The Assad regime’s problems with Arab stems from the fact that he found his lifeline with others, so they abandoned him and he abandoned them. He found his own salvation, in spite of his brutality, violence and displacement of half of the Syrian population both within the country and abroad. What is meant by Arabs here are the ones who influence Arab and international decision-making, not those who have ideological agendas and small personal goals.
For example, Saudi Arabia believes that Iranian presence in Syria is unacceptable and is a serious obstacle to regaining Arab understanding. Arab states which consider Iran a hostile enemy that has ambitions and aspirations of taking over Arab lands one after the other agree with that.
The Syrian issue is complicated due to Iranian presence in the country and not because of Russia, even though it was the latter that helped Bashar al-Assad’s regime from collapsing. Russia has good relations with major Arab countries despite different political positions on the Syrian issue, and the consultations’ option with them is still present. However, the situation is different with Iran, as its regime is the real obstacle in the way of a political solution for Syria, and Arab countries would not accept a repeat of the Iraqi situation in Syria.
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It is worthwhile to mention the remarks of the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, who went to the extent of requesting to legitimize his armed militias in Lebanon, similar to the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, and set this as a condition to form the Lebanese cabinet! Iran wants Lebanon and Syria to be like Iraq, and it wants to control their institutions. It wants to have an agent in each country, like Nasrallah who is a Lebanese citizen but who actually works according to the interests of Vilayat-e Faqih. This is what Iran is working on in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain, and it will remain its great dream and main project. Weakening Iran economically is the only way to limit its dreams and devitalize its militias. With a weak and exhausted Iran, violence and terrorism would decline.
Bashar Al-Assad trusts the Iranians because he knows their ambitions regarding his country and does not mind that. However, he does not trust the Russians who may change their positions if they see their interests moving away from him at some point. This is an equation that changes with changing parties.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani is a professor at King Saudi University and a writer for al-Sharq al-Awsat. She tweets @Alhazzani_Amal.