Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, recently visited Damascus, marking the first time an Egyptian official of his level has done so since 2011. During his visit, Shoukry emphasized the importance of “human solidarity in the first place.”
In reference to his visit to Damascus, Shoukry commented, “Although the talks had a humanitarian focus, discussions about the relationship between our two countries were not omitted.” Mahmoud Alloush, an international relations researcher, supports the idea that Shoukry’s visit aligns with the increasing trend of Arab countries showing support for Assad, which emerged in 2018 and gained momentum following the earthquake that resulted in “disaster diplomacy” to foster a shift in Arab policies towards Syria.
Openness is not free
The crucial question arising from the recent Arab moves is the cost these countries are demanding to support the Syrian regime. What concessions can Assad offer in exchange, particularly given that leaked reports suggest he must choose between aligning with either the Arab or Iranian sphere of influence rather than maintaining both?
Alloush emphasizes that any move towards openness between Arab countries and Syria will come at a cost, and its success will depend on the concessions Assad is willing to make, particularly with regard to limiting Iranian influence in Syria. He argues that relying solely on the return of Arab countries to weaken Iranian influence is “unrealistic and may even have counterproductive effects.”
Furthermore, Alloush suggests that Assad’s ability to limit Tehran’s involvement in Syria “appears to be limited even if he genuinely intends to do so.” This is due to Assad’s continued reliance on Iran for military support and his economic dependence on the country to a lesser extent. Additionally, Assad may have a vested interest in maintaining a balance between his relationships with Iran and Arab countries, which may not align with the interests of those seeking to restrict Iran’s influence in Syria, particularly Saudi Arabia.
According to Dr. Samir al-Abdullah, a Harmoun Center for Studies researcher, Arab countries are motivated to reduce Iran’s influence in Syria by engaging with Assad. They are relying on Iran’s internal crises and the country’s economic realities to pressure Assad into limiting Iran’s role in Syria and making concessions in the political process.
Abdullah suggests that the interests of certain Arab countries align with Russia’s desire to reduce Iran’s influence and support for Assad. However, achieving this goal will require Assad to restore his relationship with the Arab League and limit his ties with Iran. Furthermore, Moscow relies on Arab support for reconstruction efforts in Syria, so it may seek to drive a wedge between the Arabs and Iran.
Abdullah, however, expresses skepticism about the regime’s willingness to adhere to Arab demands to rejoin the Arab League and other international institutions. He expects that once Assad achieves this goal, he may present numerous challenges that exceed his capacity to limit Iran’s influence in Syria.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.