Arab states see a path to progress through Syria. It could be bumpy.

More than a decade after the Arab League suspended Syria for systematically killing protesters, President Bashar al-Assad is set to travel to Riyadh Friday to attend an Arab League summit. Despite the legacy of the Syrian civil war, including 300,000 civilians killed and 5 million refugees, Arab states are now reconciling with the Assad regime out of simple realpolitik.

Gulf Arab states are eager to extend a spring of cooperation and diplomacy blooming across the region. By offering normalization to Damascus, they hope to find a willing partner to tackle the issues of militias, illicit drugs, and refugees, all of which are spilling over Syria’s borders.

Why We Wrote This

The season of diplomacy blooming in the Middle East is reforging Syria’s ties to the Arab world. Each has something the other wants. But is Damascus willing to play ball?

Yet observers warn that a sense of impunity over the failure of Arab pressure may make Damascus drive a difficult bargain. U.S. sanctions and international court cases may limit Arabs’ options. And not all Arab states are equally bullish about normalization’s potential.

“Arab normalization with Syria is driven mainly by bilateral interests and geopolitics,” notes Syrian journalist Ibrahim Hamidi. “Sanctions have put a ceiling on Arab normalization; I think they, along with these court cases, are big challenges,” he says. “This is just the beginning of a long, long process.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for years persona non grata, is set to travel to Riyadh Friday to attend an Arab League summit.

It’s a stunning turnaround and recognition that the regional bloc’s pledge of “maximum pressure” against his regime has failed, more than a decade after the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership and Gulf Arab states mounted a campaign to oust him from power over Syria’s systematic killing of peaceful protesters.

Despite the legacy of the 12-year Syrian civil war – 300,000 civilians killed, 5 million refugees, three foreign armies’ involvement in Syria, and the birth of the Islamic State – Arab states are now reconciling with the Assad regime out of simple realpolitik.

Why We Wrote This

The season of diplomacy blooming in the Middle East is reforging Syria’s ties to the Arab world. Each has something the other wants. But is Damascus willing to play ball?

The Gulf states are eager to extend a spring of cooperation and diplomacy blooming across the region to Syria, a country geographically located at the heart of the Arab world that some leaders have described as an “estranged brother.”

By offering normalization, legitimacy, and badly needed funds to Damascus, they hope to create a willing partner to tackle the issues of militias, illicit drugs, and refugees, all of which are spilling over Syria’s borders.