Turkey-Syria Earthquake Encourages Arab Rapprochement with Assad

In November 2011, six months after the outbreak of the war in Syria, the League of Arab States expelled the Syrian delegation from the League after failed mediation attempts.

Over the next ten years, the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, rarely traveled to any country except to visit his main allies—Russia and Iran—for their military assistance that had enabled him to take back two-thirds of the country.

Twelve years later, and after the country’s deadly earthquake, Assad recently received Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who said it was an honor to meet him at a press conference with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal al-Miqdad.

Shoukry is not only the highest-ranking Egyptian to visit Damascus since the start of the war, but he also represents a country of historical importance closely allied with the United States. The United States has imposed severe sanctions on Syria and opposes normalization with Assad.

On February 7, one day after the earthquake that hit the border area between Turkey and Syria, and claimed the lives of 6,000 Syrians, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called the regime president for the first time since he took office nearly 10 years ago, and so did the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

The earthquake also prompted Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi to make his first visit to Syria, which is the next step in the gradual rapprochement that began with the reopening of the main border crossing between the two countries in 2021.

The Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, also received Bashar al-Assad. Oman also returned its ambassador to Damascus three years ago after an absence of eight years. The official Syrian News Agency (SANA) released a video clip (accompanied by official music) of him visiting Oman, which clearly shows the political and symbolic importance of the regime’s return to the Arab embrace.

Lina Al-Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Chatham House think tank, says that Damascus is “trying to exploit the humanitarian catastrophe to break its international isolation. Instead of offering condolences to the Syrian people affected by the tragedy, the regime’s overt response has been to seek de facto legitimacy for Assad on the international stage.”

Al-Khatib indicated that Al-Assad did not issue any statements about the February 6 earthquake until he visited the stricken Aleppo four days later, despite receiving many messages and calls from foreign leaders.

In 2011, Assad brutally suppressed the peaceful protests that erupted after the outbreak of the events of the Arab Spring, leading to a crisis that turned into a bloody war that lead to over 500,000 deaths and 13 million displaced, more than half of the country’s population.

Syrian security forces have been accused of thousands of enforced disappearances, torture of prisoners, chemical weapons attacks, and barrel bombs filled with explosives, fuel, and metal fragments on civilians.

Until this moment, no concrete measures have been taken to halt countries from their rapprochement with the Assad regime.


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