Assad seemed particularly pleased with himself that Friday night, on the 11th anniversary of the Syrian revolution. On the 18th of march, he was in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for his first visit to an Arab country since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.
This visit sends a signal that many Arab states are willing to re-engage with Syria’s once widely shunned regime, according to the pan-Arab news outlet, al-Araby al-Jadeed. While countries like the UAE are willing to re-engage with the regime as part of their counterrevolutionary strategy, others like Qatar remain particularly reluctant to do so.
This visit, however, cannot be dissociated from global development, according to the Kurdish agency North Press. In fact, it comes in a period of acute global polarity, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine mounting western democracies against autocratic regimes in Eurasia. North press claims that this visit comes only days after the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the UAE, Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov in the Russian capital Moscow. In fact, the visit came just after Russia and the UAE stressed on the need for an international effort to rebuild Syria, as reported by the pro-regime newspaper The Syria Times.
Furthermore, it comes at a period where U.S.-Arab ties are in troubled water, as Gulf oil producers refused Biden’s plea to increase oil production to keep energy prices at bay.
However, according to al-Araby al-Jadeed, the visit will not have a consequent impact on bilateral relations between the U.S. and the UAE. “The ties that bind the [U.S. and UAE] together are so profound economically, strategically, politically that there will be no serious impact,” Dr Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, told al-Araby al-Jadeed. Furthermore, North Press noted that Assad was welcomed in a way that deviates from protocol, as he was not welcomed by his counterpart (the UAE president), but rather by a minister.
The visit, however, might be the first in a longer series. In fact, the opposition website al-Souria Net reported that an Israeli website close to the secret services claims that after the UAE, Assad will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These visits will come in preparation of the upcoming Arab summit in Algeria. Some analysts believe that Arab states are counting on normalization with the regime as a way to counter Iranian influence there. It seems the Iranians are aware of this. In fact, President Bashar al-Assad received on Wednesday the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, according to the official agency SANA. Talks dealt with cooperation and other regional and international files, such as the Iranian nuclear deal or the war in Ukraine.