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Egypt Hosts Syrian FM amid Talk of Resuming Diplomatic Relations

Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad arrives in Cairo, April 1, 2023, in the first visit by a top Syrian official in more than 14 years to the Egyptian capital.
Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad arrives in Cairo, April 1, 2023, in the first visit by a top Syrian official in more than 14 years to the Egyptian capital.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad arrived in Cairo Saturday in the first visit by a top Syrian official in more than 14 years to the Egyptian capital. Speculation is that both countries soon will re-establish diplomatic ties following a recent move by Saudi Arabia to renew relations with its longtime nemesis and ally of Syria, Iran.

The visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad to Cairo is yet another sign of impending normalization among many Arab governments and Damascus, despite hesitation to make any direct move that would anger the U.S.

Both Syria and Egypt have continued to cooperate on security matters in the years since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi came to power in 2014, although diplomatic ties have remained severed since 2011.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry underscored during the meeting with Miqdad that Egypt was doing what was in the best interest of both the Egyptian and Syrian peoples.

Shoukry said he welcomes the chance to resume dialogue between both sides and the importance of continuing coordination and consultations to move mutual relations forward and to work to preserve the unity of the Syrian state and to return it to its Arab neighborhood.

Syrian Foreign Minister Miqdad thanked Shoukri for making the first move in breaking the ice with Damascus by visiting Syria in the wake of the deadly earthquake that shook the region in February.

He said that Syria thanks Egypt for its direct relations with his country during the earthquake, and both the government and its people are grateful for the help provided during the quake, which affected several Syrian provinces.

Journalists were not allowed to ask questions, as is normally the case during diplomatic visits, and the absence of a press conference appeared to signal a reluctance to formally spell out the slow normalization of ties between both countries.

Egyptian member of parliament Mustafa Bakri also told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that official Egyptian sources informed him there is not likely to be a formal meeting between Egyptian President Sissi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "in the immediate future," despite media speculation to the contrary. He also insisted there was "no agreement to have Egyptian companies participate in rebuilding Syria, either."

Joshua Landis, who leads the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, tells VOA that "Syria is being slowly reintegrated back into the Arab world, but it isn't clear yet whether it will be returned to the Arab League by the May [Arab summit] in Saudi Arabia. Qatar, he notes, "has said that it will not support the return of Syria to the Arab League and will not forgive Assad for his brutal war."

"Egypt has been taking an important role in welcoming Syria back into the embrace of its fellow Arab countries," Landis noted. Arab governments, he emphasized, "are trying to negotiate some important concessions from the Assad regime, beginning with cracking down on the Captagon [drug smuggling] trade, limiting Iran's influence in Syria, and guaranteeing the safe return of Syrian refugees."

Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek told VOA that "Egypt has always been close to Syria, and it doesn't want to escalate with the Syrian regime. The Miqdad visit Saturday, he said, "can be seen as part of new alliances emerging in the area," including cooperation with both Russia and China.

"Saudi Arabia and Egypt are not abandoning the U.S. but expanding relations with other countries and using their currencies in many of their dealings. China has recently canceled some of [the debt] Egypt owes it," said Sadek.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA he sees a limit to the extent of a rapprochement between Egypt and other Arab countries with Syria, over fears of U.S. potential economic sanctions.

He said that Dubai recently closed a Russian bank over U.S. sanctions concerns, and he asserted the UAE, Egypt and Saud Arabia are afraid of U.S. sanctions on any dealings with Syria and al-Assad. The U.S. obstacle, he adds, is "not a small obstacle and is most likely to be an insurmountable barrier."