Arab League reinstates Bashar Assad’s Syria after 12 years

The Arab League took another step toward bringing Syrian President Bashar Assad back into the fold on Sunday after it agreed to reinstate the country as a member nation – ending a 12-year suspension.

Some influential league members however remain opposed to reinstating Syria, including Qatar, who stayed away from Sunday’s meeting. In fact, only 13 out of the league’s 22 member nations sent their foreign ministers to the meeting in Cairo, Egypt.

For Assad it was a victory, albeit a symbolic one, especially as Western sanctions against Damascus remain in place.

Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended during the country’s 2011 uprising against Assad’s rule that was met by a violent crackdown and quickly turned into a civil war. The conflict has killed nearly a half million people since March 2011 and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said at a press conference after the meeting: “The reinstatement of Syria does not mean normalization of relations between Arab countries and Syria.”

“This is a sovereign decision for each country to make,” he added.

The decision document, seen by Reuters, said Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and the Arab League’s Secretary General would form a ministerial group to liaise with the Syrian government and seek solutions to the crisis through reciprocal steps.

The document noted that practical measures included continuing efforts to facilitate the delivery of aid in Syria.

Recently, Arab states have been trying to reach consensus on whether to invite Assad to an Arab League summit on May 19 in Riyadh to discuss the pace and conditions for normalizing ties.

Responding to a question over whether Assad could participate, Aboul Gheit told reporters: “If he wishes, because Syria, starting from this evening, is a full member of the Arab League.”

“When the invitation is sent by the host country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and if he wishes to participate, he will participate,” he added.

Saudi Arabia long resisted restoring relations with Assad but said after its recent rapprochement with Iran – Syria’s key regional ally – that a new approach was needed with Damascus.