Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in a dilemma: whether to restore friendship with the West (despite recent hostility) or strengthen ties with Russia and other members of BRICS (an association of five major emerging national economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
In an article published recently in Middle East Online, noted Syrian historian Sami Moubayed analysed the current political situation in his country with a special focus on its “Russia policy”. According to Moubayed, the Syrian government decided to implement “Heading East” policy 10 years ago in an attempt to bolster ties with countries other than the US and EU members. At that time, President Assad said that the Syria’s colonial past prompted him to make such a decision. The president recalled how France, Britain and Italy had looted West Asia after the fall of the Ottoman Empire (during the post WWI period).
Although French rulers left the region after colonising Syria and Lebanon for nearly 30 years, America (considered as Israel’s chief benefactor) started intervening in the region in 1956 (during the Suez crisis). In 2003, the US invaded Iraq and the invasion abruptly changed the geopolitical landscape of West Asia. In 2005, the Syrian government daily “Tishreen” said in an editorial: “There is an entire new world out there waiting to be explored and its members are eager to co-operate without taking dictates and ultimatums from the US.” The daily advised the top political leadership in Damascus to bolster ties with five emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
More than 15 years after the publication of the editorial, President Assad sought Russia’s help to tackle the threat posed by the ISIS. Moubayed believes that Syria may come closer to BRICS in the coming days, as the five powerful economies have always backed the Assad regime. The BRICS nations refused to recall their ambassadors from Damascus in 2005 when the West accused Syria of being responsible for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The historian believes that West will be responsible for the policy shift to be made by the Assad administration.
Moubayed said that the BRICS nations have never opposed Damascus’ decision to back Palestinian Hamas movement and Hezbollah. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa not only welcomed the Syrian-Iranian friendly relations, but also backed Syria’s position in the peace process with Israel. Even today, they are not ready to accept a regime change in Damascus. By sending a senior military officer to Damascus in 2015, China made clear that Beijing was ready to discuss co-operation against terrorism with all the concerned parties. Amid an escalation in the West Asian country’s civil war, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar arrived in the Syrian capital on August 19, 2016 for a two-day visit and held talks with the concerned authorities in Damascus. Moubayed is of the opinion that the Indian minister carried yet another message of support from BRICS.
With BRICS countries rallying around Syria at a time when most countries refuse to talk to the Assad administration, President Assad may decide to strengthen co-operation with BRICS and make it difficult for the West to restore ties with Damascus.