The Middle East have always been an important strategic region, as it connects West with Asia. Not only as a producer of oil and gas but it has also provided transit trade routes to the world, for instance, Suez Canal. Apart from its strategic importance, this region hosts major conflicts in world. War on terror in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Israel – Palestine conflict and menace of ISIS are few among others. In recent times the Syrian conflict drew attentions of the world when news of its readmission to Arab League made headlines in the mainstream and social media. Syria is a country of almost 21.32 million people according to the 2021 estimates. It is situated in the Middle East sharing borders with Israel on the South, Jordan on the East, Iraq on the South East and Turkey on the North while Mediterranean Sea lies in its West, enhancing its strategic location. War-torn Syria stole lime light after Arab spring when a deadly civil war broke out in the entire country. After the start of war, Syria was isolated due to Bashar-al Assad’s crackdown on the anti-government protests in 2011.
Before diving deep into contemporary developments in Arab world, one needs to understand history of Syrian conflict briefly. The region where Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Turkey are situated is the oldest inhabited place on Earth. This region has hosted majority of Messengers of Allah and hence is the birthplace of all three Abrahamic religions: Muslims, Christianity and Judaism. The state of Syria came under colonial rule after World War 1 when Ottoman Empire collapsed and French forces entered into this region. French rule lasted till 1945-46 and Syria gained independence in 1945. After remaining independent for a decade Syria joined the United Arab Republic comprised of Egypt and Syria. This unity lasted few years and Syria seceded in 1961 following a coup d’état. In 1960s and 1970s Syria witnessed turmoil, instability, emergency and military rules. The tussle between Shia (Alwites) and Sunnis (Baathist party) deprived Syria of a sound leadership. Saleh Jadid was ousted by his defence minister Hafez Al Assad in 1970. After throwing out Saleh Jadid in 1970 the then defence minister Hafez al Assad became president of Syria and his reign lasted until his death in 2000. Here begins the problem. The son of late Hafez al Assad- Bashar al Assad- was elected president of Syria unopposed in 2000. Bashar al Assad continued the legacy of his father and controlled his party and country in efficient manners. But the Arab spring of 2011 changed the course of domestic politics as marginalised majority Sunnis stood up against Bashar al Assad’s harsh and discriminatory politics.
During this civil war which is continue till date thousands of people lost lives and countless went missing along with a large number of people migrated to Europe and nearby states such as Turkey. Dynamics of conflicts are changing and hopes are high for resolution of this decade old civil war. Among many positive signals, the Syria’s re admission to Arab league is a green signal from other Arab nations to accelerate the peace process in war torn Syria.
Syria’s Readmission to Arab League:
The volatile region of Middle East witnessed significant changes in recent years, for instance, normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel and Saudi-Iran rapprochement. In a recent development on 08th May 2023, Arab league welcomed back the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad and ended the 11 year long isolation. In the wake of 2011 Arab spring Bashar-al-Assad suppressed dissented voices with cruelty and therefore Arab league, predominantly governed on the directions of Saudi Arabia, suspended the membership of Syria. Experts claim that this development is part of MBS’vision of normalising ties with Middle Eastern states including Qatar and Iran. The recent meet-up of ministers of this key Arab body reiterated their eagerness to put forward their efforts for resolution of this conflict and avert unwanted consequences of humanitarian, political, and security crises.
The ministerial body of Arab league issued a statement which emphasised the importance of formation of a committee to carry on dialogues with Syrian government in order to find a peaceful solution. The head of Arab league Ahmed Aboul Ghiet said that ‘this decision will help Arab states to understand the problem comprehensively”. And some members of this body termed this decision as a “start rather than an end of the conflict resolution”. Adding to it Mr. Ahmed left the matter of normalising the ties with Syria on the individual states.
The officials from Syrian side welcomed the decision and said that “this decision will lead to the next stage of constructive engagement based on respect and mutual trust”. Apart from Arab league few individual states were trying to normalise ties with Syria. The economic, logistical and financial support from Qatar and the UAE are few examples.
The role of great powers for instance the USA and Russia have always remained crucial in the Syrian conflict. Russia supports Basher-al-Assad regime economically and militarily while on other hand the USA supports Syrian Democratic Forces which are fighting against Basher’s forces. Turkey also has its border conflicts with Syria especially on the matter of Kurdish minority. This exasperating farrago has created a mess in Syria. The aforementioned great powers and neighbouring states have not played any positive role for conflict resolution. This decision of Syrian readmission back into the Arab fold will at least provide Syria a platform to mend its fences will regional state.
Syria which is a victim of civil unrest, terrorism, humanitarian crisis, and war is set to see a beacon of hope nearly after a decade. The positive development of Syrian readmission to Arab fold shows the eagerness of Arab states to end decade old civil war in Syria and to find peaceful solution which would be acceptable to all minority groups.
India, the reluctant BRICS traveller
Until last year, the Western game was to mock at BRICS as an inconsequential club, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, stresses M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
India became a beacon of hope for the Western media for a short while in the run-up to the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg — a potential dissenter who might derail the grouping’s acceleration toward a “de-dollarisation” process.
Reuters floated a rumour that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might not attend the summit in person, which of course was an excessive case of wishful thinking but called attention to what a high stakes geopolitical game BRICS has become.
The reasons are not far to seek. At the most obvious level, there is great sensitivity in the Western world that the massive effort through the past 18 months to weaponise sanctions against Russia not only flopped but boomeranged. And this is at a time when the United States’ morbid fear of being overtaken by China peaked — burying the global hegemony of the West since the “geographical discoveries” of the 15th century.
The recent years witnessed a steady strengthening of the Russia-China partnership, which has reached a “no limits” character, contrary to the Western calculus that the historical contradictions between the two neighbouring giants virtually ruled out such a possibility. In reality, Russia-China partnership is shaping up as something bigger than a formal alliance in its seamless tolerance of the optimal pursuit of each protagonists’s national interests while concurrently supporting the core interests of both sides.
Thus, any format in which Russia and China play a lead role, such as BRICS, is bound to be in the US’ crosshairs. It is as simple as that. The New York Times called the BRICS expansion “a significant victory for the two leading members of the group, increasing China’s political influence and helping to reduce Russia’s isolation.”
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after returning to Moscow from Johannesburg, told the Russian state television two important things: “We [BRICS] don’t want to encroach on anyone’s interests. We simply don’t want anyone to hamper the development of our mutually beneficial projects that are not aimed against anyone.” Western politicians and reporters “tend to wag their tongues, while we use our heads and [engage in] concrete issues.”
There is no need for BRICS to become an alternative to the G20 now. That said, “the formal division of the G20 Group into G7+ and BRICS+ is taking a practical shape.”
Unless one is myopic, BRICS’ sense of direction is there for all to see. The grumbling and hand-wringing about the logic of BRICS expansion is complete nonsense. For, the unspoken secret lies here, as a leading Russian strategic thinker Fyodor Lukyanov wrote in the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta: “We can hardly talk about an anti-Western orientation — with the exception of Russia and now, perhaps, Iran, none of the current and likely future [BRICS] participants openly wants to oppose themselves to the West. However, this reflects the coming era, when the policy of most states is a constant choice of partners to solve their problems, and there may be different counterparts for different problems.”
Indeed, the pragmatism in admitting three major oil producing countries from the Gulf region (Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) only signals what Lavrov meant by the “projects” and “concrete issues” that BRICS is grappling with — principally, creating a new international trading system to replace the 5-centuries old system that the West created, which was geared to transfer wealth to the metropolis and enabled the latter to get fatter and richer.
Basically, this is today about tackling the phenomenon of the petrodollar, which is the pillar of the western banking system and at the very core of the “de-dollarisation” process that the BRICS is aiming at. Suffice to say, the curtain is coming down on the Faustian deal of the early 1970s that replaced gold with American dollar and ensured that oil would be traded in dollars, which in turn required all countries to keep their reserves in dollars, and eventually turned into the principal mechanism for the US’ global hegemony.
Put differently, how is it possible to roll back the petrodollar without Saudi Arabia being at the barricades? That said, it is also well understood by all member states, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, that while BRICS is “non-western,” a transformation of the BRICS into an anti-Western alliance is impossible. Quintessentially, what we are seeing in the BRICS’ expansion, therefore, is its transformation into the most representative community in the world, whose members interact with each other bypassing Western pressure.
This is enough for a start, as the reaction in the Western countries to the outcome of the Johannesburg summit testifies. The leading German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung noted that with this limited expansion itself, BRICS has gained “significant geopolitical and economic weight. The question now is how the West will react to this.”
A top official at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Caroline Kanter told the daily, “It is is obvious that we [Western countries] are no longer able to set our own conditions and standards. Proposals will be expected from us so that in the future we will be perceived as an attractive partner.”
France’s Le Figaro wrote that the “enthusiasm” of some 40 countries for BRICS membership “testifies to the growing influence of developing countries on the world stage.”
The Guardian highlighted expert opinion that BRICS expansion is rather “a symbol of broad support from the global South for the recalibration of the world order.”
At the same time, the bottom line is that BRICS expansion is perceived in the West as a political victory for Russia and China. Nonetheless, despite its tensions with China, India did the right thing by trimming its sails accordingly while sensing the winds of change and anticipating a new dawn breaking for BRICS cooperation that could inject new vitality into the grouping’s functioning and further strengthen the power of world peace and development, notes M.K. Bhadrakumar.
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