As the new year kicks off and Arab governments warm up to the Syrian regime, the next opportunity for all Arab nations - and possibly Syria - to convene in one room will be in Beirut this month.
Lebanon is set to host the 2019 Arab Economic and Social Development Summit from Jan. 19-20. The foreign ministers of the Arab League members will meet one day earlier, on Jan. 18.
The one Arab state that will be absent - for now - is Syria.
Damascus’ membership was suspended in 2011 following the outbreak of the Syrian war, and most Arab countries severed diplomatic ties with President Bashar Assad’s regime shortly thereafter.
But this all changed in the final days of 2018, when, on Dec. 16, notorious Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir made an official visit to Damascus. Less than a week later, Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk met in Cairo with his Egyptian counterpart.
In between that time, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that American troops would withdraw from Syria (though he now appears to be backtracking).
Then on Christmas Day, the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus.
If the trend continues - and political sources say this is inevitable - it’s only a matter of time before Syria is again permitted representation in the Arab League, whose chartered mission is to work for the common interest of Arab states.
And Lebanon may be Syria’s door of re-entry.
There are “only two ways” for Syria’s readmission to happen, according to a source from Lebanon’s presidential palace. Though unlikely, Syria could rejoin when the foreign ministers meet in Beirut on Jan. 18. “If they decide [on having Syria reinstated], we will immediately send an invitation to Damascus,” the Baabda Palace source added.
The second way, the source told The Daily Star, is for “the foreign ministers of the Arab League [to] meet today, tomorrow or anytime before the annual [Arab League] summit in March and reinstate Syria.”
Tunisia is set to host the Arab League Summit on March 31. Tunis was another Arab capital that opened up to Syria in recent days: The first Syrian passenger flight flew to Tunisia last week for the first time in nearly eight years.
The presidential palace source was quick to note that the decision on whether to invite Syria to rejoin the league is not Lebanon’s decision. “We are simply hosting the summit, not organizing it, so we are not the ones who invite.”
While Lebanon and Syria never cut diplomatic ties, a sharp division still exists within Lebanese political circles over the relationship with Syria.
On the one hand, a handful of Syrian officials see Lebanon as an ally that stood next to it during the war. Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi spoke of the possibility for Syria to rejoin the Arab League, tweeting that if it returned to the body, “there would be two ‘victorious’ Arab states.”
“Lebanon, which defeated Israel, and Syria, which defeated NATO and global terrorism.”
On the other hand, another Syrian MP claimed that Syria is in fact the one that has not yet approved returning to the Arab League, “despite numerous demands by other Arab states.”
This MP responded to the chances of Syria being invited to the AESD by telling The Daily Star: “You have to direct your question to the Arab League and the organizers of this event, not to us. As far as I know we are not participating as of yet.”
A source from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said he does not believe Syria will be invited to the AESD. “I’m inclined to say no [they won’t be invited], unless there is something behind the scenes that we don’t know about."
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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