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Arab League readmits Syria after 12-year suspension

May 7, 2023

Syria's membership in the Arab League was suspended in 2011 after protests against President Bashar Assad turned violent. The body's members have now voted to revert the move.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry speaks during an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on May 7, 2023.
Syria has been shunned from the Arab League since the start of the civil war 12 years agoImage: Khaled Desouki/AFP

Arab League foreign ministers voted on Sunday to readmit Syria into the organization, after a suspension that lasted over a decade due to the region-wide condemnation of President Bashar Assad's crackdown on the 2011 protests-turned-civil-war.

Ministers held a closed meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, where the unfolding situation in Sudan was also on the agenda.

Some members did not attend the session on Sunday. The most notable absentee was Qatar, which has backed Syria's opposition against Assad.

Meanwhile, Syria said the "positive" move serves Arab interests.

"The stage ahead requires an effective and constructive Arab approach at the bilateral and collective levels based on dialogue, mutual respect and common interests of the Arab nation," Syria's state news agency SANA quoted the country's Foreign Ministry as saying. 

Move 'does not mean normalization'

"The reinstatement of Syria does not mean normalization of relations between Arab countries and Syria," Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told a press conference. "This is a sovereign decision for each country to make."

Some Arab states, including Qatar, have been opposed to normalizing relations with Assad without a political solution to the conflict. Qatar's Foreign Ministry stressed that Doha's position on "normalization with the Syrian regime has not changed."

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But others, like the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, have quietly reestablished contact in recent years. 

The Arab ministers agreed to set up a contact committee of envoys from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Arab League head, to maintain direct contacts with Syria.

The committee aims to reach a "comprehensive solution to the crisis addressing all its ramifications," the final statement said, without elaborating.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who headed the talks, told his counterparts earlier on Sunday that the only way to settle the crisis "is a purely Syrian political solution without foreign dictates."

Despite the changes in the Arab stance, a US State Department spokesperson said Washington did "not believe Syria merits readmission into the Arab League at this time."

Syria's gradual return to Arab diplomacy

For much of the past 12 years, Syria was shunned from most diplomatic interactions in the region. 

But recently, there has been an acceleration in the process of reestablishing ties, with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad paying visits to Arab capitals including Cairo, Amman and Tunis. 

It was after a last month's visit to Saudi Arabia that Arab countries got together in Jeddah to discuss moves to end Syria's isolation, which has lasted for over a decade. 

Saudi Arabia, which had initially supported Assad's opposition, was among the staunchest opponents to Syria's return.

However, the rich Sunni kingdom in March announced the restoration of diplomatic ties with Shiite Iran, after years of suspended relations.

Tehran has been a strong Assad backer.

fb, rmt/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)