Ties between the two states have repaired themselves quickly after Abu Dhabi’s brief flirtation with the Syrian revolution.
The most senior Emirati official in Syria has praised the ‘wise’ leadership of the country’s autocrat Bashar al Assad in the latest sign that ties between the two have normalised.
Abu Dhabi’s embassy in Damascus re-opened in 2018 after the UAE broke off relations with Assad and sided with Syrian revolutionaries in 2011.
Despite more than half a million deaths in the Syrian regime’s war against the opposition, the use of chemical weapons, and the industrial-scale torture and murder of dissidents, the Emirati government has made a dramatic reversal of its anti-Assad stance.
Early signs of a rapprochement were visible when the Syrian regime conducted deportations of Syrian families back to Damascus, where they were liable to political persecution, torture, and forced military service.
Emirati ambassador to Syria Abdul Hakim Ibrahim al Nuaimi, said that UAE-Syria ties were “based on Arab unification through a moderate policy,” the pro-Assad regime, Al Masdar News reported.
The change in stance coincides with the Assad regime’s successes in the Syrian Civil War driven by Iranian-trained militias and Russian air power.
As the tide of the war shifted, Emirati priorities changed from wanting the overthrow of the regime, to countering Iranian influence and cashing in on future reconstruction projects, according to analysts and observers, including former US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford.
One key obstacle in any future normalisation of ties between Assad and the UAE remains the Syrian dictator’s status as an international pariah. With US sanctions against doing business with his regime, the Emiratis may encounter legal difficulties further down the line.
A Reuters report in August said that the visit by forty Emirati businessmen to Damascus had angered US officials who raised the possibility that those doing business with the regime may be slapped with sanctions.
A Middle East Eye report in January said that the Emiratis were meeting with Saudi, Egyptian, and Israeli officials with a view to helping Assad rehabilitate his image on the diplomatic stage, although no evidence of the encounter has emerged since.
The Syrian war started in 2011 when initially peaceful protests were brutally put down by Assad’s forces. The ensuing conflict has torn the country apart, resulting in the deaths of more than 500,000 people, and a refugee crisis that has forced more than six million people into neighbouring states, such as Turkey, and further away, including Europe.