Arab Countries Making U-Turn on Syria

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mohammad Mehdi Mazaheri
Faculty Member, University of Tehran

Politics and power in the Middle East is such that despite ideological coordinates of countries and political players in this region, they are usually tempted to seek their own interests. As a result, the rivalries among all influential political players in the Arab world has always pivoted around two main axes of “containing threats,” and boosting their own “role and influence.” This is probably why some Arab countries, along with their Western allies, have been trying to take advantage of the Syrian crisis, since that crisis first began in 2011, as an opportunity to “start a new game” in the region.

Of course, Arab countries have taken multiple stances on the Syria crisis as a function of their political systems as well as the degree of their interactions with the West. Being an immediate neighbor to Syria, Iraq, for example, has been constantly concerned about the impact of the Syria conflict in fueling further sectarian violence on its soil. Meanwhile due to existence of shared views on Syria between Iraqi and Iranian officials, the government of Iraq has been opposed to any kind of military intervention in Syria and has, instead, put the emphasis on the need to find a peaceful political solution to the country’s crisis. On the other hand, Egypt, has been itself engulfed in a sweeping wave of a popular uprising and subsequent fundamental political changes since 2011, when the crisis started in Syria. However, the governments that have taken office in Cairo following the country’s revolution have had an eye on the Syria crisis as a means to justify their own domestic problems. The former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, severed his country’s ties with Syria and asked for the announcement of a no-fly zone over that country. However, after his government was toppled by the Egyptian military, the new government adopted a more cautious positon on Syria and has been emphasizing a political solution for the country’s crisis. Jordan, in the meantime, has been mostly impartial from the time that the crisis broke out in Syria and has been urging a political way out of the ongoing crisis, which has been plaguing its northern neighbor for about four years now. However, under pressures from the United States, the government of Jordan has been recently increasing its cooperation with the so-called Free Syrian Army and has been helping the group to smuggle arms into the Syrian city of Dara’a which is located close to the border with Jordan.

In the Persian Gulf region, Saudi Arabia always accused the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad of supporting resistance groups and considered it a threat to the interests and future outlook of conservative monarchies in this region. As a result, ever since the crisis has begun in Syria, Riyadh has taken the lead among Persian Gulf littoral states in their efforts against Bashar Assad’s government. Therefore, member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], save for Oman, took a hostile position against the Syrian government; provided financial support to militants fighting in Syria; closed their embassies in Damascus; and expelled Syria’s ambassadors to their countries. Following the developments that have been collectively known as the Islamic Awakening or the Arab Spring, these countries felt a more serious threat from Syria. They believed that the close relations that resistance movements and Syria have with Iran has changed the balance of regional political power and marginalized their policies. Therefore, this group of countries has been continuously supporting militant groups in Syria.

Despite all the above facts, now that the crisis in Syria is almost turning four years, some basic developments in the political scene of the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria, have prompted the same Arab states to go back over their previously hostile policies. As a result, they have decided to reopen their embassies in Syria and vice versa. As a first step, Kuwait has become the first Arab country that has decided to resume relations with Syria in a bid to make up for part of its past mistakes about Damascus. Let’s not forget that Kuwait was the same country that joined hands with some other Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in order to repeal Syria’s membership in the Arab League. Due to the often mediatory role that it has frequently played in political and social developments in the Persian Gulf region and because of its past relations with Syria, Kuwait is now trying to be a vanguard in resuming relations with Damascus. Tunisia, in North Africa, was the first Arab country to cut its ties with Syria. Now, the country has announced that it is planning to restore political relations with Syria and open a diplomatic office in Damascus.

It seems that the categorical victory of Bashar Assad in Syria’s latest presidential election; a change in the attitude and priorities of the US administration from toppling the Syrian government and Washington’s new focus on eradicating extremist groups topped by the ISIS, have been among major factors that have worked to change the position of the Kuwaiti government on Syria. Therefore, it seems that current geopolitical conditions in the Middle East have changed the balance of regional power in favor of Syria, Iran and Russia. The new developments have also made regional and transregional states reach the conclusion that the overthrow of Assad’s government and, in parallel, undermining the regional standing of Iran and the resistance movement, is not practical anymore. They have clearly realized that such a scenario will harm their interests and security of the entire region as it can further strengthen those radical groups whose threat is now being felt more seriously than any time before.

Key Words: Arab Countries, Syria, Middle East, Politics and Power, Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab Spring, Bashar Assad, ISIS, Mazaheri

Source: Iran Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: URARTU Travel

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