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Visit to Oman: Some stage for Assad: Syria’s President after the earthquake

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For a long time, the view prevailed that Syria’s head of state, Assad, would have to leave the field sooner or later. The earthquakes are now giving him an opportunity to regain his footing internationally.

Red carpet, handshakes, friendly greetings – in Oman on Monday, Bashar al-Assad received all the protocol honors that are actually part of day-to-day business in the world of international relations.

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Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, who received the Syrian President at the airport in Muscat, publicly sent a message above all: condolences for the victims of the severe earthquakes in Syria and Turkey and the promise to help the “brotherly Syrian people” after the disaster to stand side.

The tremors of February 6 gave Syria’s rulers an unexpected chance to free themselves a little from their far-reaching political isolation. Or at least an opportunity to more openly display its rather tacit alliances with Arab neighbors and other countries. Shortly after the earthquake in Syria, in which around 5,900 people were confirmed to have died, the government made efforts to gain factual recognition on the international stage.

Assad’s first reaction after the earthquake was not to express his grief to the people or to declare a state of emergency. Instead, the presidential office detailed all the phone calls and messages that Assad personally received after the quake from other heads of state and monarchs: from China and Iran, from Russian President Vladimir Putin, from Jordan, Iraq, and so on. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called Assad for the first time since taking office in 2014. Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Sajid traveled to Damascus to meet Assad.

“The earthquakes were a gift for Assad”

It is recalled that Bashar al-Assad has held on to power with all his might since protests against his government in 2011. Attacks with poison gas, bombardments by allies against clinics and schools, and state-authorized torture are among the allegations against his government. The civil war, which has killed more than 350,000 people, has displaced 13 million people within Syria or allowed them to flee to other countries. The conflict has since been forgotten, also due to the war in Ukraine. The fragmented Syria is still an active war zone.

“The earthquakes were a gift for Assad,” says Lina Khatib, Middle East expert at British think tank Chatham House. Over the years, a kind of “passive normalization” has taken place towards Assad, she tells the Arab Digest platform. Among other things, because the UN peace process has not progressed for years and has come to a standstill. The sanctions imposed by the USA and the EU also failed to bring about the hoped-for political change. After almost twelve years of civil war, Assad’s government is still the dominant force in the country, recognized by the United Nations.

Assad is far from a dialogue with the West

At the UN, the debate over aid shipments to rebel-held areas in the Northwest also soon provided an opportunity for the government to seize the new limelight. Syria’s UN Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh delivered the message that Assad wanted to open two more border crossings into Turkey. Actually a positive step. In fact, the tremors were already a week old at that point, and most of the victims who had somehow survived under the rubble in the north-west were probably dead.

Assad is a long way from a dialogue with the West, and Syria’s membership in the Arab League has been suspended since 2011. But “the consensus is growing in the Arab world that the status quo is not practicable,” Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said at the Munich Security Conference, referring to Syria’s isolation. In a departure from his previous stance, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also held out the prospect of a meeting with Assad.

The tremors could mean a further boost for this – for a normalization that has been going on for some time. “A man who presided over the destruction of his country and the death of half a million countrymen through all forms of killing is the sole beneficiary of a calamity that has once again crushed his own people,” writes New Lines Magazine. When Assad visited the disaster area, he seemed almost in a happy mood. In some photos he can be seen with a smile.

Source: Stern

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