Central female figure representing Syria portrayed in a determined pose, holding a globe of the Middle East in one hand. With the other hand, she is planting the Syrian flag on a grassy hill.
Design by Emily Schwartz.

On May 7, 2023, Syria was readmitted into the Arab League after a 13-year absence. Similar to the European Union, the Arab League acts as a regional alliance among 22 Arab countries and serves to facilitate political and economic programs. Unlike the European Union, however, the Arab League has not successfully delivered effective or relevant solutions to the divisive problems that haunt Arab countries. Instead, the Arab League has mainly accepted existing resolutions and offered empty yet poetic declarations pronouncing the importance of Arab unity.  

Nonetheless, the re-induction of Syria into the Arab League is a symbolically critical step toward normalizing international relations with Syria. The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, warmly welcomed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the 32nd regional summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This is especially noteworthy because, during the Syrian conflict that broke out in 2011, Saudi Arabia militarized opposition groups that worked to undermine the government. Meanwhile, Iranian powers supported Syrian sovereignty, leading to a proxy war between the two cold-war opponents that is manifold in complexity (given rivaling Western and Russian alliances and religious sectarianism). However, recent developments between Saudi Arabia and Iran, delegated by China, have initiated a peaceful turn of events that trickled down to Syria’s domestic conflict. Thus, the reintegration of Syria into the Arab League comes as an installment of a larger plan to resolve tension in Syria and the Middle East.

Western countries have censured the Arab League’s decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with Syria — the United States has introduced the Assad Anti-Normalization Act, which essentially bars Washington from recognizing any Syrian administration that is led by Bashar al-Assad. This bill enhances the United States’ Caesar Act, a piece of legislation that imposes severe Western sanctions on the region and alienates the Syrian economy from the international community. (In light of the recent earthquakes which have killed more than 7,000 Syrians, the sanctions were reluctantly lifted by the United States for a brief six-month window after international outrage. This limited and temporary verdict is purely performative given their sadistic history in the region.) The United Kingdom has also criticized Syria’s readmittance to the Arab League, with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stating that this move makes the United Kingdom “very uncomfortable.” 

Further, the Syrian government has faced condemnation from Western nations for its repressive measures, displacements and lethal actions against its own populace during the Arab Spring uprisings. The protracted war in Syria claimed the lives of more than 300,000 individuals after an uprising from the opposition forces initiated brutality all over the country. In addition, the kleptocratic governance system has eroded public confidence through extensive mismanagement of public resources, while restrictions on freedom of speech and press have resulted in the continuous persecution of Syrian intellectuals who dare to criticize the Syrian authority. All in all, the Assad administration has impeded genuine prospects for political, economic and cultural progress within the region.

But as domestic issues ensued, the West pushed the empty rhetoric of establishing a democracy in the Middle East while destabilizing and terrorizing the region. Consider the following: in September 2013, the Obama Administration was preparing to unleash a barrage of missiles in Syria. The rationalization of this “red-line” policy was that al-Assad used chemical weapons on civilians in the Ghouta suburbs near Damascus. However, a polar shift in decisions led former President Barack Obama to withdraw his earlier notion of violence and, instead, opt to work with Russia to ensure a complete withdrawal of chemical weapons from Syria. 

But under what grounds was the Obama Administration operating? Following America’s outcry at the supposed chemical weapon attack, world-renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh released a report outlining the falsified narrative that the United States relied on to justify toppling Syrian autonomy. In other words, there was no evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people. (Interestingly, the Obama Administration funded Syrian rebel groups following the uprising in Syria, inciting further violence in the region. The irony is that these opposition groups actually did use chemical weapons.)

The adverse impact on Syria cannot be solely attributed to the policies pursued by the Obama administration. Under the Trump Administration, Syrian civilians were directly bombed by precision missiles in 2017. Former United States President Donald Trump also threatened to kill Bashar al-Assad, showcasing America’s brazen, vicious and non-pragmatic behavior. Additionally, he publicly admitted that the United States’ involvement in Syria is purely for resource exploitation.

This did not change under the Biden Administration. In 2022, the United States stole more than 80% of Syria’s oil production, amounting to about a $24 billion dollar profit in the first half of the year alone. Moreover, some 2,000 American troops are stationed across 22 American bases in Northern Syria on Kurdish land (as reported by a senior diplomat in the Arab League). These troops are actively working to extract oil from the rich land, which comes as a minor example of the United States’ moral abandonment of the region, given the deadly earthquakes that shook Syria in February.  

These instances, compounded by the severe sanctions, have crushed the Syrian people, leaving 90% of the population under the international poverty line and more than half of the population hungry. Thus, under mild examination, it becomes abundantly clear that the West has played a devastating role in Syria. And with the Assad Anti-Normalization Act mentioned earlier, the West continues to restrain Syria’s economic and political freedom, causing widespread instability. 

Nevertheless, Syria is currently experiencing a shift in its circumstances, presenting a glimmer of hope for the country’s future.

For example, in July 2018, Iran announced a major railway project connecting Iran, Iraq and Syria, serving as a geopolitically strategic plan that facilitates trade between these countries and, as Iranian officials have pledged, rebuild the war-torn Syria. Just last month at a delegation in Damascus, Iranian politicians expressed their eagerness to develop this railway and expand transit between the two countries.

Another climacteric and promising affair is happening in Turkey as its election runoff takes place; Syrians are watching closely, given that a third of Syria that has fallen to the opposition was funded by Turkey in the past. However, today’s enemies are tomorrow’s allies. Historically, Turkey has supported anti-government extremist groups, but the presence of the Kurds, an ethnic minority inhabiting Syria and Turkey, carries the potential to compel Turkey to reevaluate its position within the Syrian landscape. Under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s urge, there is mounting pressure on Turkish President Recep Erdoğan to explore a workable ratification for the Kurdish conflict. On the other hand, the United States has endorsed the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish militia group that is actively trying to establish its own sovereign country (which was realized in some capacity in northern Iraq). 

Kurdish groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, are interested in claiming parts of southern Turkey, and Erdoğan sees that as an existential threat to Turkey’s recognized borders. Meanwhile, the SDF presence concerns al-Assad as well, and moving forward, this could be a uniting point for the two countries against the West and a possible addressing may come about. As of now, the Syrian government has refused to delegate any negotiations with Turkey until Turkish troops are withdrawn from Syria.

Lastly, the Syrian leadership may also look into consolidating allegiance with organizations such as BRICS, an economic pact between Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and other powerful countries. Given the secure relations between Russia and Syria, this is conceivable and it can offer a viable solution to the Syrian crisis by helping rebuild the economy. The significance of such an organization lies in its independence from the American currency, ensuring that when the United States enforces sanctions on a nation, the impact of these sanctions will not harm that member country.

Nineteen nations have already applied to join BRICS and many other countries are interested in membership. Serving as a vital alternative to the International Monetary Fund, BRICS seeks to help developing countries break away from the Eurocentric fiscal aid model (which just advances neo-colonial control by privatizing public goods and outsourcing principal resources to Western countries). By de-dollarizing national economies in the global South and West Asia, BRICS maintains the capacity to reconstruct a post-Western economy that is multipolar. 

In essence, Syria’s reintegration into the Arab League marks a consequential step towards normalizing international relations and resolving tensions in the region. Ongoing developments in the Kurdish conflict involving Turkey could serve as a prospective uniting point for Syria and Turkey, leading to further diplomatic possibilities in the future. And while Western countries continue to criticize the Syrian government and impose sanctions, Syria is forging alliances with countries like Iran and exploring alternative economic partnerships like BRICS, potentially offering a path to rebuild the war-torn country and reduce dependence on Western influence. 

Ammar Ahmad is an Opinion Columnist from Damascus, Syria, and he writes about international politics and American culture. You can reach him at ammarz@umich.edu.