Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Abu Dhabi this week to meet with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, to further develop the relationship between the two countries following a normalization of relations. This is the second time Assad has visited the country since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, with his first visit to the country being around this time last year. These meetings serve as an important step forward for the war-torn nation’s future relationships with fellow Middle Eastern countries.
According to Syrian state news, Assad and Nahyan talked about how to improve their diplomatic and economic cooperation to help stabilize the situation in Syria. Current reports from the United States Institute of Peace show that the Syrian Civil War has effectively reached a stalemate, with Assad’s government controlling an estimated 70% of the country. Despite the unresolved status of the civil war, Syria is seeing a thaw in its relationships with Arab League members as many come to accept the Ba’athist leadership in the nation.
Assad’s trip to the UAE follows a visit he made to Oman to meet with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq on February 20. The visit has been viewed as a small yet important step towards this normalization process with the Arab League, signaling a larger desire among the Arab League to follow suit. Last month, Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, traveled to Damascus to examine the damage the devastating earthquake had caused. Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi called Assad for the first time since being elected in 2014, with the aim of providing assistance to Syria following the earthquake. The Saudi Arabian government has also opened up channels with Syria again, showing it is willing to talk with Assad. Many experts see Syrian unity with the Arab League as a significant boost to the potential of peace in the region, especially if more European nations were to follow. Qatar remains one of the only members of the League to openly oppose normalizing relations with Assad. This line of thought is currently similar to the United States’ view, pointing to the allegations of Assad’s record of brutality.
During the meeting, the Sheikh made comments concerning the possibility of lifting the suspension currently placed on Syria as a member of the Arab League.
Following the effects of the Syrian earthquake and the lack of support in line with sanctions, the recognition many countries have shown for the reality of Syria has seemingly been a major contributor to other countries reestablishing ties with the Assad government. Many now hope that this opening of relations could help push Syria towards a definitive end to the civil war and the ability to rebuild the country.