The call launched from Washington, Friday, November 12, by the head of Qatari diplomacy, Mohammed Ben Abderrahmane Al Thani, to end the rapprochement with Syria in the absence of Bashar Al-Assad’s commitment to a political solution, just like the reminder made by his side by his American counterpart, Antony Blinken, of the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime in ten years of war, are likely to have little echo among their Arab partners. By sending Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Damascus on November 9, Abu Dhabi resumed its regional rapprochement efforts with Assad, determined to rehabilitate the Syrian dictator and impose the return of Syria in the Arab fold.
“In the eyes of the United Arab Emirates, Assad will remain in power and Syria is a key regional player, so it is better to re-establish relations in order to have some form of influence with Damascus, rather than to leave the field entirely free to Iran and Russia ”, allies of the regime, decrypts Sam Heller, of the Century Foundation think tank. The finding is not new in Abu Dhabi. As the bridgehead, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, of the policy of isolation of Syria, excluded from the Arab League in 2011, the Emirates were the first to stop supporting the armed opposition, worried about the expansion on Syrian territory of Islamist movements, Iran and Turkey.
After the reopening of their embassy in Damascus at the end of 2018, they increased their support and economic exchanges with the regime, despite warnings from the US administration. “The Emirates have given more than a billion dollars [873 millions d’euros] humanitarian aid to areas under the regime’s control. They are the third country to export products to Syria ”, underlines Joseph Daher, specialist in Syria at the University of Lausanne. The American sanctions imposed at the end of 2019 under the Caesar law, however, hampered their attempts to invest in the reconstruction of the country, devastated by the war.
The Emirates have returned to the offensive since the arrival of Joe Biden at the White House, which ended the policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran and its allies, put in place under Donald Trump. With the support of Jordan and Egypt – and more discreetly from Saudi Arabia – they are calling for the lifting of sanctions and the reintegration of Syria into the Arab League. “There is a real regional desire to put an end to the period of uprisings [arabes] and to return to an authoritarian stability to allow the resumption of investments and regional reintegration, to put an end to the jihadist groups, and to put an end to the rivalries with Turkey or Qatar which have cost a lot ”, pursuit M. Daher.
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UAE steps up efforts to rehabilitate Bashar Al-Assad