Syria returns to the Arab League as Ukrainain President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asks Arab nations to use their ties with Russia to end the war in Ukraine.
Two of the several blood-drenched conflicts on the agenda at the 32nd Arab League summit, which concluded last month in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, were the recent civil war in Syria and Ukraine’s ongoing defense against Russia. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was readmitted to the league after 12 years of expulsion following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. He was attending the summit for the first time since. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also appeared, on his way to the G7 summit in Japan, to plead for support from Arab nations.
Assad used the forum to pitch a new alignment of world powers and for the league to reject external intervention in the politics of Arab states. More urgently, he aimed to persuade league members to force Western nations to lift sanctions against Syria. They can benefit, he argued, from rebuilding Syria and from multiple, sometimes even conflicting, alliances in a world not dominated by one or two superpowers.
Syria’s economy suffers from high inflation, a sinking currency and limited energy supplies. The Syrian pound hit an all-time low of 9,000 to the dollar in May. Doing business with Syria while Western economic sanctions are still in place could put Arab League members at risk. Even the recent Saudi-Iranian diplomatic truce did not immediately include complete restoration of bilateral commercial relations.
Zelenskyy’s ask at the Arab League Summit was also a big one. He wants the Arab nations to leverage their close relationships with Moscow, as well as its allies China and Iran, to end the Russian invasion. This, too, remains to be seen. But Assad’s and Zelenskyy’s visits to the summit underscore the opportunity many Arab nations seemingly face in a conflict-ridden global landscape to pursue policies that once would have been seen as inconsistent: supporting Ukraine at the same time they reconcile with a Russian-allied regime like Assad’s Syria, for example.