Amid the rubble and ruins, Bashar al-Assad was re-elected as the President of Syria with 95.1 percent of the votes last May. This win came after remaining in power for 21 long years since an unexpected and highly controversial takeover. As a center to the Middle East geopolitical stage, this election and Assad’s presence at the helm of affairs is still asking for regional approval.
Syria has been struggling since the revolution started in 2011 when massive protests erupted in the country. As part of the Arab Spring, popular uprisings, each feeding the next, swept the region. From Morocco to Oman, protesters against stagnant regimes demanded from the fall of the regime to simple reforms.
Even after decades-long conflict and crisis, the challenges of governance affect millions of people in Syria on a day-to-day basis. As a result, according to the UN Refugee Agency despite the 350,000 deads, 6.7 million internally displaced persons, 160,000 stateless persons, and 32,207 refugees and asylum seekers last year, the Syrian revolution has its goal far from complete.
However, the journalist Asa Winstanley wrote in his polemic opinion article Syria: The Revolution That Never Was. In this article, the author clearly showed a brutal interference in the escalation of the crisis, stating:
“To say Syria is now a disaster is a massive understatement, This is a sectarian civil war which could continue for a decade if the regime’s enemies, led by the brutal Saudi tyranny, continue to wage their proxy war on the country”.
On this point, it is important to highlight that this article questions the validity of a “Syrian revolution”. Although this is not the point of this analysis, Asa Winstanley demonstrates the multiple actors on the ground.
There are certain inquiries that are still under discussion. For instance, how did the international community change its vision towards the Syrian War? and most importantly, why did it change?
From diplomatic visits to Syria’s return to the Arab League
The current Arab political order is being challenged by the Syrian foreign policy, as it shows an intention of reconciliation with the countries of the area.
In this line, President Bashar al-Assad seems to have more support from regional countries than in the last decades.
Since September 27th, Jordan agreed on multiple terms with the Syrian government in the fields of transport, agriculture, trade, among others. As a part of these ministerial meetings, Jordan reopened the Jaber crossing at the border with Syria. This represented an integral part to help “the struggling Syrian and Jordanian economies” within an integrated regional network of countries. On October 3rd, Assad spoke by phone to Jordan’s King Abdullah II to discuss its bilateral relationship.
Furthermore, it was unexpected to see that in November, the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and UAE Foreign Minister Sheykh Abdullah Bin Zayed met in Damascus for a high Emirati official visit to Syria in the past 11 years.
These developments came as the different regional policies addressed mainly by Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. These countries seek to increase cooperation with the regime and are also enthusiastic about accepting Syria back into the Arab League.
In this sense, after Syrian membership in the Arab League was suspended for the government’s violent repression of the uprising against the Bashar Al-Assad regime, the Arab Parliament urged on Friday 14 December the Arab League to reinstate its membership.
The last time the issue was debated was during the preparations for the 30th regular summit of the league in Tunisia in 2019. Nevertheless, full consensus on restoring Syria’s membership could not be reached.
International Actors: A bad performance or a last try?
In its own way, the United States had accused the Syrian government of multiple crimes. Between them, its failure to prevent Syria from becoming a major transit point for foreign fighters entering Iraq, its refusal to deport elements of the former Saddam Hussein regime from Syria, its meddling in Lebanese affairs, its protection of the leadership of Palestinian reject groups in Damascus, and its human rights record and its search for weapons of mass destruction.
Unfortunately, America’s role in the conflict, despite the formation of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, has greatly diminished. The US effort to smear Bashar al Assad’s reputation has had little effect on the countries in the area.
By its part, unable to create a consensus, the Security Council in 2021 limited itself to passing a resolution ‘unanimously’ regarding humanitarian activities in the country.
Compared to previous resolutions, over the years, the Council’s actions on the Syrian question have been largely limited to humanitarian activities.
Through Resolution 2585 (2021), the Council requests the Secretary-General to include in his reports overall trends in United Nations cross-line operations. This covers in particular on the implementation of humanitarian deliveries inside Syria and early recovery projects.
The document also details the distribution mechanism, the number of beneficiaries, operating partners, locations of aid deliveries at the district level, and the volume and nature of items delivered.
Indeed, this is not a resolution with a promising tone against the Syrian regime, much less challenging. It is a resolution that vaguely covers the humanitarian operations to keep a completely broken country safe.
Mediators to ‘end the war’: The Astana Peace Process
The Astana peace process aimed to end the Syrian conflict. The process started in January 2017 by Russia, Iran, and Turkey. In April 2018, the leaders agreed to pool forces to achieve a “lasting ceasefire” in Syria.
On December 22, Representatives of the Astana Format – Iran, Russia, and Turkey – and UN Representatives arrived in Kazakhstan to participate in the 17th round of talks. The parties made a statement at the end of the 17th International Meeting on Syria. The sponsors noted that there could be no military solution to the Syrian conflict.
The stakeholders reaffirmed their commitment to advance viable solutions to the end of the conflict. As well, to search for an UN-facilitated political process in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
The Representatives also signed a joint declaration on the final clauses to make the Astana Process a fruitful and supportive solution to the Assad’s government.
🤝 On 21 December, the 17th International Meeting on Syria in the Astana Format opened in Nur-Sultan. The talks to be held on 21-22 December.
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) December 21, 2021
What to expect in the near future of Syrian diplomacy?
With this decline in attention, it is shown that international pressure has been unable to discourage the Syrian regime from staying in power.
Regional actors who were once strongly opposed to the regime, today, are trying to strengthen their ties with it. This is a result in the face of the possibility of a failure of the Syrian revolution. Migration, trade, joint security, and defense are priority topics on the bilateral agendas.
It was unthinkable that Syria could regain its place in the Arab League. Nonetheless, in fact, it was more unexpected to see Egypt and Jordan pushing towards this goal. Similarly, the interest of the United Arab Emirates to approach the Syrian regime.
By its part, the Security Council has really remained on the sidelines of the crisis. However, it was the same body that questioned the regime multiple times over chemical weapons.
Now, alternative mechanisms have been used in the face of the Council’s inability to achieve a peaceful solution. Hence, the Astana Peace Process is one of the few consensual solutions to mark an end to the controversial power struggle.
After all, despite all international efforts to cope with the conflict, the Assad regime has not lost its force. On the contrary, it is even more popular than when the civil war broke out. Perhaps this reflects the exhaustion of the people after an imposed division and failed international attempts to achieve peace for Syrians.
*The writer is a Research Intern fellow at The Diplomatic Insight and Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies from Peru.
*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of this magazine.