Introduction: A Landscape of Divergent Approaches
The Syrian rebellion occurred during the Arab Uprising of 2011. It signalled a period of unprecedented instability in the Middle East. As the event escalated, Arab states were challenged with the task of implementing cohesive strategies in response to the war. However, these strategies differed substantially owing to several geopolitical and internal factors. This policy paper delves into the different tactics of Arab state policy towards the Syrian rebellion, including the Arab League’s involvement, numerical numbers highlighting the hurdles, and the crisis’s projected future direction.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 civilians have died due to the Syrian Assad-led war, more than fifty percent of the population has been displaced, chemical weapons are believed to have been employed more than 330 times, and 14 million people desperately need humanitarian assistance. Despite these astonishing figures, Syria was readmitted to the Arab League in May 2023.
The Arab League historically speaking wanted to intercede in the initial days of the Syrian revolt by sending a team of monitors to preserve peace. Regrettably, this approach failed, and Syria was barred from the Arab League in 2011 because of the increasing conflict. This isolation allowed Russia and Iraq to get more involved in the fight. Syria’s beleaguered government sought assistance from Russia, severely hurting Arab-Russian relations.
Concurrently, Iraq’s alliance with Iran complicated the geopolitical situation, with Iran offering significant support to Syria’s regime. As a result, Syria has become a platform for opposing regional interests, compounding the issue’s complexities. The Arab League’s initiatives did not slow the mass genocide. The Syrian dictatorship resorted to chemical weapons in 2012. The regime orchestrated the killing of 14,00 civilians in Damascus’ Ghouta district. Similarly, the dictatorship has used chlorine gas, which, like sarin, is outlawed worldwide. President Assad has also surrounded opposition-held cities, denying them food, water, medication, and power. President Assad’s methods have included hitting schools and hospitals and frequently denying foreign humanitarian organizations access to opposition regions. 
Approximately 15.3 million Syrians, nearly 70% of the population, require urgent humanitarian assistance in 2023. Within Syria, 6.8 million people are internally displaced, the highest number since the conflict began. Turkey hosts over 3.5 million refugees, the largest refugee population in a single country globally. The conflict’s impact on children is devastating, with more than 6.5 million Syrian children in need of emergency aid and millions out of school or at risk of dropping out. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in February and aftershocks added to the catastrophe by affecting northwest Syria and southeast Turkey, causing significant casualties and displacement. Syrian refugees have sought asylum in 130 countries, yet most are in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. Turkey houses the largest population of Syrian refugees, followed by significant numbers in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, each facing challenges related to living conditions, access to opportunities, and strained resources. 
After over a decade of isolation, the Arab League reversed and tried to lift Syria’s seclusion. Some regional authorities backed the idea since isolation had failed. After all, more than 500,000 people, including soldiers, have been slain in the war. Some might have been motivated by the humanitarian repercussions of February’s tragic earthquake, and they may believe that reinstating Arab League membership will make it easier to provide supplies and relief. Others were persuaded that normalizing relations with Syria would result in millions of Syrian refugees returning. According to accounts, they were persuaded by the assumption that removing Syria’s isolation would aid in the crackdown on the production and trafficking of Captagon, an amphetamine manufactured in Syria that has saturated the Gulf States.
Part 2: (Provide numerical data)
- What are the factors that shaped Arab state policies towards Syria?
- Those factors depend on the geopolitics of those Arab states.
- In countries like Jordan, their main concern is Terrorism. Syria started to attract terrorist groups.
- How it has affected their security.
- Issue of refugees. Political pressure and economic pressure.
- For Iraq, there is an issue of Terrorism and not so many refugees.
- Iran is pushing Iraq to help the Syrian regime.
- For Lebanon, the issue is refugees.
- For GCC. Concern of Terrorism
- Syria is a Core for regional instability.
- There is international pressure to help with refugee issues and fight Terrorism.
- It is hard to say there is a single unified Arab state position. There are multiple positions. Terrorism and refugee are the main issue.
Shaping Factors and Numerical Realities
The policies adopted by Arab states towards the Syrian uprising were heavily influenced by myriad factors, driven by the distinct geopolitical challenges each nation faced.
Jordan for example has been grappling with its history of Terrorism, grew increasingly concerned as Syria turned into a haven for extremist groups. The numbers underscored these concerns, with an estimated 3,000 Jordanian nationals joining various militant factions in Syria, raising alarm bells for the nation’s security. At the outset of the conflict, Jordan’s King Abdullah stated that if he were in Assad’s place, he would resign due to enormous protests his authority. Jordan, meanwhile, never officially cut ties with Syria. Jordan has faced multifaceted threats from some of its neighbours in recent years, as crises in Syria and Iraq have created unstable border regions, putting Jordan in the heart of the “global red zone” of Terrorism.
External dangers have included direct conflict with militant non-state entities like Al-Nusra or ISIS on the Syrian-Jordanian border and a heightened possibility of terrorist strikes on Jordanian soil carried out by seasoned, battle-hardened terrorists. Jordan has previously been comparatively spared from Islamist assaults, except for three simultaneous hotel bombs in Amman, Jordan’s capital, carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2005.
On May 8, 2023, Jordan orchestrated two airstrikes on southern Syria, killing Marie al-Ramthan, who had been condemned to death in absentia on many instances for Captagon trafficking. His family, including his wife and six children were also killed during the striking his residence in Shaab, As-Suwayda. The latter bombing targeted a narcotics plant in Kharab al Shahem, Daraa Governorate, associated to the Iran-supported Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Lebanon is also a state which has a delicate sectarian equilibrium, it had faced significant challenges due to the influx of refugees. As of 2021, Lebanon was home to an overwhelming 1.5 million registered Syrian refugees, making up a third of its population, putting immense strain on its resources and social fabric.
For Iraq, the issue of Terrorism was also paramount. The rise of ISIS in Syria had direct implications for Iraq’s security. While the refugee crisis was less pronounced than in other neighbouring nations, Iraq still hosted over 250,000 Syrian refugees. GCC countries shared concerns over the spread of Terrorism and extremist ideologies. The numbers tell a significant story, with GCC nations designating numerous extremist factions operating in Syria as terrorist organizations, reflecting their collective unease. Nevertheless, the complexity was not restricted to Terrorism alone. The refugee crisis was a pressing concern, with neighbouring nations hosting millions displaced Syrians. For example, Turkey accommodated over 3.6 million Syrian refugees by 2021, straining its infrastructure and economy.
Early in the crisis, Saudi Arabia spoke out aggressively against Assad, expressing worry over Shi’ite Iran’s regional dominance. As the revolt expanded, Saudi offered the predominantly Sunni insurgents’ weaponry, money, and political backing. In 2014, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal stated there no role of a transition may exist for President Assad and “those whose hands were stained in blood” and all foreign fighters, including Hezbollah, must withdraw from Syria.
Several Arab powers, most notably the United Arab Emirates, reversed their stance on Assad, whereas, Saudi Arabia also displayed no signs of retrieving him from exile. However, this approach has altered in the near months, especially when Saudi and Iran concluded to repair relations in an agreement mediated by China. Saudi on the other hand remains concerned about Iran’s influence in Syria. Saudi Arabia, like other Arab powers, expects Assad to reduce the illicit drug trade out of Syria. In April 2023, Assad met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Damascus. They addressed actions required for a political settlement to the war that will protect its Arab character and ensure the return it to “its Arab surroundings,” according to Saudi official media.
Qatar’s strong support for Syria’s opposition matched its underpinning for the Arab Spring revolts which affected the Middle East in 2011, particularly in Egypt, where it supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Syrian opposition leaders occupied Syria’s place at an Arab summit in Qatar in 2013. This was following Qatar’s emir requesting his contemporary Arab leaders to invite them to represent the country. Majority of Qatar’s aid was sent to rebels with Islamist ideologies and ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar’s intervention aided in facilitating the release of a large number of captives held in Syria by the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s recognised affiliate in the fight for several years. Qatar also participated in US-backed attempts to help moderate rebels. In 2018, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani stated the region could not tolerate “a war criminal” like Assad.
Qatar stated that the initial reason for Syria’s expulsion from the Arab League remains unchanged, and it has repeated Qatar’s opposition to normalization with Syria until there is a political settlement. However, it recalled its objection to Saudi Arabia’s effort to resubmit Syria to the pan-Arab organization, stating it will prevent hindering Arab consensus.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) formerly supported anti-Assad militants. However, its position was less important than that of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and it was primarily concerned with ensuring that Islamist groups would not dominate the insurgency. After driving back militants across much of Syria with the help of Russia and Iran, Abu Dhabi brought Assad back into the Arab fold. Its reasons for re-engagement, which drew criticism from the U.S., not exluding the attempt to balance the effect of non-Arab Iran and Turkey in Syria.
An official visit to Syria by the UAE’s foreign minister in late 2021 was succeeded the following year by President Assad’s first visit to an Arab state from the conflict beginning. President Assad went again in March. Similarly, the UAE has extended the invite to Preident Assad to attend the COP28 climate summit it is hosting at the end of the year.
Economic Interests Versus Ideas
Arab nations who support President Assad’s rehabilitation, such as the UAE, see significant economic potential in Syria. Although U.S. sanctions have precluded America’s regional friends and partners from making significant investments in or negotiating large economic deals with Syria, Abu Dhabi and other Arab capitals have a long-term vision for Syrian rebuilding whenever sanctions are repealed or lessened.
Qatar could profit from similar advantages. Given Russia’s and Iran’s current financial difficulties, these two nations cannot fund Syria’s reconstruction alone. Qatar, an enormously affluent Persian Gulf country, can fund large-scale projects Syria needs.
Before making a decision, Qatari officials will consider a variety of issues. As President Assad is increasingly rehabilitated in the larger Arab-Islamic world, they combine values with economic interests and pragmatism.
A Tenuous Path Forward
In an unexpected turn of events, in May 2023, the Arab League opted to readmit Syria, signifying a reversal in policy. The Saudi-Iran rapprochement encouraged this realignment, emphasizing the larger regional context. The Arab world’s fear of Syria’s impending demise contributed to the gravity of the issue.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud undertook a landmark trip to Damascus on April 18 2023, meeting with Syrian President in the first formal visit to Syria by a high-ranking Saudi royal as the two states ended diplomatic connections in 2011. The subject matter varied from the requirement for a “comprehensive political settlement of the Syrian crisis” to “the return of Syria to its Arab surroundings” and the “return of Syrian refugees and displaced persons.” Along the same lines, UAE and Qatar stated that efforts to reinstated complete bilateral relations and reopen embassies are proceeding.
These efforts to strengthen bilateral ties are part of a more significant regional effort to balance the region after a volatile decade. Two separate but uniformally essential pacification efforts are underway, with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states placing centre. It must be noted that the GCC nations are de-escalating issues with long-standing regional rivals and competitors to ensure long-term security. Conversely, the GCC monarchs are taking measures to reduce internal tensions and prevent future conflicts within the GCC.
The reinstatement of President Assad to the Arab League is where these two tracks of regional diplomacy meet, with extensive ramifications for the Middle East’s general stability and the effectiveness of the present de-escalation momentum.
Whereas Saudi Arabia utilized its strong diplomatic reputation to speeden Syria’s re-entry to the Arab League, the UAE and Bahrain laid the foundation for normalization when they reopened their respective missions in Syria in 2018. While UAE and Bahrain maintained diplomatic officials at the chargé d’affaires level, these gestures were mainly symbolic: the Syrian regime still had sympathizers in the Gulf Cooperation Council. From then, the United Arab Emirates has completed majority of role to restore Assad’s legitimacy.
Placing itself as a forerunner of normalization, the UAE has increased bilateral relations with Syria, sending Foreign Minister Abdallah bin Zayed al-Nahyan to Damascus on many occasions. Since early 2022, Assad was received twice by UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The level of diplomatic communication between the UAE and Syrian authorities demonstrates the UAE’s crucial play in the normalization procedure.
Qatar stands out as the most vociferous GCC country opposing the normalization of Syria. While Qatar does not necessarily oppose the concept, Doha believes that any future diplomatic outreach to Assad must be accompanied by demonstrable advances by the regime in handling the competing organizations and rebuilding Syria’s political system. According to Qatar, Assad has made no significant measures to alleviate the deadly persecution of dissidents, and the grounds for the regime’s removal remain in place.
While moderate in its opposition than Qatar, Kuwait had expressed doubts about Assad’s return to the Arab League. The Syrian problem remains a very divisive topic in the eyes of the Kuwaiti public due to its mixed sectarian demographics.
Oman has consistently taken a neutral position onn the Syrian civil war, underlining the humanitarian aspects of the conflict. Oman, like its Arab neighbours, downsized its diplomatic mission in Syria in 2012. However, it has always avoided assertive stands on Syrian domestic issues and has not terminated ties with Syria. It is the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member to re-establish its embassy in Damascus in October 2020, Oman’s stance then changed to backing Syria’s readmission to the Arab League. 
Overall, the GCC states have demonstrated enough will to deal with internal opposition over Syria’s political destiny in a peaceful manner. Qatar remains staunchly opposed to normalization with Syria but has also refrained from holding an antagonistic role inside the Arab League against the Saudi-backed normalization campaign. The Gulf monarchs are addressing their seemingly irreversible disagreements on the Syrian issue with care and rationale, having learnt from prior battles.
Conclusion: Navigating Complexity Toward Stability
The Syrian crisis has had far-reaching global consequences. The crisis has not only stretched the resources of Arab governments, but it has also brought in foreign forces with entrenched interests. Israel has been closely following events, concerned about the entrenchment of Iranian soldiers and Hezbollah within Syrian borders. Conversely, Iran regards Syria as an essential friend and has significantly assisted the Assad administration.
The Syrian refugee problem has spread well beyond the Middle East. The worldwide consequences are also evident, notably in Europe. As of 2021, the European Union was dealing with an unprecedented refugee surge, with over 1.7 million Syrians requesting asylum in various European nations.
The Syrian revolt has highlighted the complicated network of geopolitical variables that determine the actions of Arab governments. The Arab League’s fluctuating posture, the impact of Terrorism and migrants, and the worldwide implications all testify to the intricacies of this multilayered situation. Syria’s fate is entwined with the larger Middle Eastern landscape. Therefore, the route forward remains to be discovered. A comprehensive approach is required for any adequate settlement that tackles current obstacles while also digging into the fundamental causes of the conflict, regional rivalries, and more significant geopolitical issues. Only via such a comprehensive strategy will Syria be transformed from a source of instability to a source of stability and optimism in the Arab world.
The Assad administration’s normalization continues to polarise the GCC. Placed upon the present geopolitical events, the substantial diplomatic resources have expended to foster the regional issue, and the overarching wish for long-term peace, the Gulf monarchies are unlikely to escalate the issue over Syria’s regime or administrations, risking their newly replaced unification. The collective objective of developing security and stability won over centrifugal inclinations and zero-sum approaches, boosting the GCC’s most defining facet: its members’ ability to maintain the least consensus on similar objectives.
On the international scene, the Syrian administration still needs more validity. The United States and European states have played little to discourage their Middle Eastern partners from normalizing relations with President Assad. Yet, they want to maintain Syrian sanctions barring the regime attempts to find a political solution to the civil war based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254. Arab governments will also be increasingly vulnerable to sanctions from the West as they attempt to benefit from lucrative rebuilding projects and increased commercial interactions with Syria. With this fact, GCC countries actively participating in Assad’s rehabilitation will likely tread cautiously between calibrated involvement on illustrative matters.
Finally, the present rush of diplomatic engagement in the Middle East reflects an increasing vigor by regional geopolitical factors to retake importance in their area. However, it is unknown to how degree the Arab governments are willing to reintegrate the Assad administration fully, this collaborative endeavour represents a novel age in the Middle East in which soothing discourse and equally useful collaboration has limtied direct conflict and competition. Lastly, opposing viewpoints and principal apprehnsions remain a significant feature of GCC politics, as evidenced by Qatar’s strong anti-Assad stance, the Gulf states have shown a solid determination to sectionalize defiance and follow a pacifist regional approach with regional states.