Pariah no more? Arab League reinstates Bashar Assad’s Syria
CAIRO — The Arab League agreed Sunday to reinstate Syria, ending a 12-year suspension and taking another step toward bringing Syrian President Bashar Assad, a long-time regional pariah, back into the fold.
Some influential league members remain opposed to reinstating Syria, chief among them Qatar, which did not send its foreign minister to Sunday’s gathering. Thirteen out of the league’s 22 member states sent their foreign ministers to the meeting in Cairo.
The decision represented a victory for Damascus, albeit a largely symbolic one. Given that Western sanctions against Assad’s government remain in place, the return to the Arab League is not expected to lead to a quick release of reconstruction funds in the war-battered country.
Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended early on during the country’s 2011 uprising against Assad’s rule that was met by a violent crackdown and quickly turned into a civil war. The conflict has killed nearly a half million people since March 2011 and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a televised statement that the decision to return Syria to the organization, which will allow Assad to take part in the group’s upcoming May 19 summit, is part of a gradual process of resolving the conflict.
“This doesn’t mean that the Syria crisis has been resolved, on the contrary,” he said. “But it allows the Arab (states) for the first time in years to communicate with the Syrian government to discuss all the problems.”
Aboul Gheit also said restoring Syria’s membership in the organization does not mean all Arab countries have normalized with Damascus.
“These are sovereign decisions for each state individually,” he said.
Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous claimed Sunday that Syria had been the victim of “misinformation and distortion campaigns launched by our enemies” for 12 years. He said Sunday’s consultations reflected the “prestigious position” Syria holds regionally and internationally.
Opponents of Assad saw the move toward normalization as a betrayal.
“Arab states have put their own cynical realpolitik and diplomatic agendas above basic humanity,” said Laila Kiki, executive director of The Syria Campaign, an international advocacy group. The move, she said, has “cruelly betrayed tens of thousands of victims of the regime’s war crimes and granted Assad a green light to continue committing horrific crimes with impunity.”