In the wake of the Arab Spring, Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 in an accusation against President Bashar Assad’s regime for killing its people. At that, time, no one assumed Syria’s return to the league under the same regime. Assad government’s brutal military crackdown against the pro-democratic people created widespread criticism, including from prominent Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, which led to its suspension from the Arab League. Nevertheless,  Syria’s membership in Arab League has been reinstated on 7 May 2023 at the meeting of the council of the Arab League. The country’s recent re-entrance has stunned the world as such a phenomenon could not even be possible to think about several years ago. As Saudi Arabia’s influence in the Arab League is an undeniable fact, the decision to Syria’s accession is the larger part of its present geopolitical ambition and other interests.

The complexity of the war

When the Syrian civil war started, most of the Arab states openly supported the Sunni-led pro-democracy rebellion with money, arms and ammunition. On the other hand, Russia and Iran took the side of the Syrian military dictator Bashar Assad. Russia sent its air force to support the Assad forces against the rebels as well as Islamic State (IS). Iran aided his regime by sending its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) militias and Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon. After the immediate setback in the war, the Assad regime could re-establish its grip on 63.38% with the help of both Russia and Iran. The resistance from the rebels gradually withered away considering several issues: division among rebel groups and involvement of various state actors to serve their own country’s interests. Notwithstanding the civil war is now in a ceasefire situation, and various troubles relating to the crisis are still haunting the neighbouring Arab states. Experts opine such issues might play a big role in the decision to re-entrance Syria.

The factors determining Syria’s re-entrance

Arab League is a loose alliance of 22 Arab states. It was established in Cairo on 22 March 1945 with six members only. The purpose of this was to build cooperation among the member states on common interests: economics, military, welfare, culture, communication and nationality among all the Arab-speaking nations. Although Syria and Egypt we’re the most influential actors in this League, the present-day de facto leader is Saudi Arabia. The country is going under a significant reformation under the leadership of crown prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman since his appointment as crown prince on 21 June 2017. This is widely been discussed about Saudi Arabia’s particular interest aligned with the re-entrance of Syria again in Arab League. Several countries: Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco and Yemen, opposed such decision. However, the majority supported the decision. The decision of reinstating Syria’s position  in the Arab League is not a unilateral decision, although Saudi Arabia might have influences while making it. There are a plethora of factors which facilitate taking such a decision.

  1. Syrian refugee crisis

Around 5.4 million Syrian refugees live in neighbouring countries, especially Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The economy of Lebanon is crippling because of the huge burden of the refugees. According to Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, this refugee crisis has cost Lebanon more than 40 billion. UNHCR also warned that there is rising tension between Lebanese national and Syrian refugees. In case of Jordan, the country hold around 1.3 million refugee, whereas the country’ population itself only 11 million. The burden of such humongous amount refugees played a noteworthy role to bring back Syria so that the issue of refugee repatriation can discussed.

  • The geopolitical ambition of Saudi Arabia

In the aftermath of oil price crisis during 2014-2016, Saudi Arabia’s economy was shattered due the low oil price. Since the country’s heavily dependent oil economy faced a tremendous challenge, the diversification of its economy became inevitable. Regional stability is pivotal for Saudi Arabia to diversify its economy and meet the goal. addition to that, the long standing relation with USA also became precarious due to the Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey. Saudi Arabia is now not only just trying to diversify its economy, but also creating new allies rather than the USA. They have also taken initiative to normalize the relation with Iran, mediating by China. Following the initiative, the normalization of relation with Syria also came to the forefront and the Arab League re-entrance decision came eventually. The already established influence by both Iran and Russia, will only get increase if Saudi Arabia keeps itself  detached from the Aassad regime. Mohammed Bin Salman can not lose the geopolitical game by letting Syria within their grasp.

  • The Epidemic of Captagon

The captagon is a highly addictive amphetamine drug, also dubbed as ‘poor man’s cocaine’ and ‘Abu Hilalin’, that widely been popular in middle east. This is drug is not new to this region. However, the use and  illegal business of th drug has increased substantially after the Syrian civil war started. This is widely been accused that Syria’s Bashar Assad government is working like the drug cartel as they produce Captagon in an industrial scale using the former pharmaceutical industries. Various sanctions imposed by the USA, especially the Caesar Civilian Protection Act in 2019, severely crippled Assad regime’s economy. The accusation against the regime is that mass production of captagon might have become regime’s lifeline in the response if harsh sanctions by west. According to the New Lines Institute, Captagon created $5.7 billion (€4.5 billion) in 2021. The highest number of this drug user belong to Saudi Arabia and they are mostly from 12-22 years old. The entire region is facing epidemic, not only Saudi Arabia. During Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al-Saud’s visit to Damascus in April last month, the country offered to invest $4 billion in Syria in exchange for impeding drug exports.

  • Plenty much crisis in Middle East:

Middle East is regarded as the most volatile region in the present world. The curse  of chronic war runs after the region since world war 2. The Syrian war lasted for more than 10 years. In recent time, the Sudan is on the verge of another civil war. Still no solution came to Yemen war. Palestine is also burning since 1948. The jostling of war in middle east might play a crucial role to take the decision of reinstating Syria’s position in Arab League so that no further escalation occurs in Syria again.

Concluding Remark

According Lord Palmerstone, there is no permanent friend and permanent enemy in international relation , only national interest shapes one’s choice. A homecoming reception to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by his former haters just again let us remind Palmerstone’s famous remark. The geopolitical reality and other issues played essential role to shape the choice of the Arab League states in rebuilding the relation with once hated enemy Assad. Therefore, re-entrance of Syria may be a step toward legalizing the Assad regime, but the USA and other stakeholders’ strong opposition are still a big challenge.


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