Syria's reentry to the Arab League: Unveiling unspoken realities

The summit held last Friday May 19, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, saw Syria rejoin the Arab League after exactly 12 years. Syria, whose membership was suspended in 2011 due to the Bashar Assad regime’s bombardments and attacks on civilians, is now thus re-included in the “Arab home” without facing any sanctions.

This extremely critical meeting contained elements worthy of attention in many respects: “Saudi Arabia’s active foreign policy vision,” “the regional impacts of Syria’s return to the Arab League,” “the future of Syrian refugees in different countries,” “Russia and Iran’s relations with Arab League countries,” “Qatar’s position within the Arab League,” et cetera. I will leave aside – for now – all these subjects, which all require an individual column, and focus on the following statement from Assad’s speech: “One of the greatest threats in our region is the expansionist Ottoman thought combined with the deviant Muslim Brotherhood ideology.”

The people and country Assad is referring to here are self-evident. Since there was no objection or comment to Assad’s statement from any country in the hall, including the host Saudi Arabia – note that the Emir of Qatar Tamam bin Hamad al Thani left the meeting early to rest – it can be said that there is a “subconscious” here. A state of depression in the Arab world blended with nationalism that continues underhandedly and is revealed at crisis times.

The maneuver area of Turkish foreign politics in the context of the Islamic world and Muslim countries can be classified into three different categories: 1) The Balkans with which Türkiye still has close relations both as public and state, 2) The central Arab region, which was taken under control during Ottoman Sultan Selim the Grim’s era, 3) The far regions not physically and directly ruled by the Ottoman Empire through history.

The region where Türkiye is most successful in terms of foreign policy objectives is, by a far margin, the Balkans. Türkiye, seen in this region as a “big brother,” arbitrator,” is a power that can communicate with all actors simultaneously, develop relations with all of them at different levels, and a resort when a problem arises.

During the almost four decades the Ottoman Empire ruled over the Arab region, “the challenges of Muslims ruling Muslims” is revealed in every aspect. The remnants of relations that were established in the form of ruler-ruled back in the time, is still seen and felt intensely today. (Note that of course, the said “remnants” are observed more in politicians, the ruling elite, and arts and culture groups, than among the public. The public acts upon current reactions, which consist heavily of sentimentality, instead of planned thoughts.) Therefore, Türkiye must be extremely careful when planning the steps it will take concerning the Arab region, and meticulously support discourses, and take care to prevent communication – which is already on edge – from being spoiled externally by foreign powers. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria – though the third is heavily influenced by Iran – are countries competing to be the flag bearer for the “Arabism” discourse.

The public in far countries with which we never experienced the “ruler-ruled” tensions, on the other hand, are embracing us with endless affinity and love, almost without us having to take even a step towards them. Numerous countries from Malaysia to Senegal, from Pakistan to Tanzania are examples of this. These countries admire Türkiye in every respect, even naming their children after television series heroes and heroines.

The above quote from Assad needs to be discussed in such a context – never forgetting, in every step to be taken towards Syria, that we will be faced with the subconscious that spilled from Assad’s lips.

There was hearsay that many – so-called – opinion leaders, thinkers, and journalists discussed intensely in the early 2000s:

Assad was once left in such a tight position in relation to ongoing tensions with Israel that he gave the following response to a message addressed to him from Tel Aviv: “If you make me any angrier, I will raise the Turkish flag in Golan and other border points, and you will have to fight Türkiye!”

People believed for years that Assad could have made such a statement, and this was also indoctrinated to the masses. Unfortunately, the process referred to as the Arab Spring showed with a bitter experience that this was not the case at all. Hence, keeping realistic in Middle East corridors is the best approach.

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