As part of the important news of the inauguration of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology [KAUST], the arrival of the Syrian President Bashar al Assad [to Saudi Arabia for the celebrations] was greeted with acclaim and applause. The public was inherently encouraged by these events and the positive steps. They were pleased with the Syrian president’s meeting with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, believing this to be a step in the right direction to put inter-Arab relations back on the right track. At the very least Syrian-Saudi relations can be described as significant, and there is personal “goodwill” [between the two countries] that cannot be ignored regardless of political and economic complications.
Since the foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by King Abdulaziz Bin Saud, there has always been a “symbolic” but important Syrian presence. This can be seen in how Syria managed to gain the confidence of King Abdulaziz and this [relationship] contributed in an effective manner to the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and has left clear imprints in its history. Prior to this stage, the people of Najd made trips to- conducted trade with- and even settled in- the Levant in what was known at the time as the “travel of the spouses.” While residents of Al Ahsa and Hijaz were similarly in contact with Syria, which is something that resulted in trade, friendship, and even marriage between the two peoples, the relationship between the two countries developed further to include a higher degree of understanding and integration, and during the Saudi wealth boom thousands of Syrians came to work in different fields in Saudi Arabia, becoming acclimatized to Saudi society. Saudi society welcomed this social shift, with Syrian cuisine, songs, stories, plays, and television series becoming part of the fabric of Saudi society.
The people became familiar with Syrian kebabs, Qudud music, Ghar soap, olive oil, thyme, the Booza [Syrian ice cream], Zhourat Shamia, and of course the Syrian Bab al Hara television series. The Syrians also became familiar with the customs, cuisine, special occasions, values and dialects of the Saudis. It is no longer strange to hear the Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo’s songs being played in Damascus or to buy a novel by Saudi writer Raja Alem in Aleppo or to watch an episode of [the Saudi comedy series] Tash Ma Tash in the Syrian city of Homs. Saudi-Syrian ties are based on an excellent foundation of “exceptional” public approval, which is rare between countries. Therefore, there can be a great deal of cooperation, success and achievement between the two countries. However, there are still some “other” problematic issues between them that remain unresolved such as the issues concerning Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and others.
Saudi Arabia and Syria have no real option other than to develop ties and raise the level of relations to new standards “within” the Arab realm and to keep away from other elements and forces that have different agendas and will not stop causing division and sedition whether explicitly or implicitly. People were happy that the warmth of Saudi-Syrian ties was being restored after a period of alienation and distance. The most important challenge remains; that is to maintain this spirit and to strengthen it by all means, and not to confine dialogue to communication between the two governments, but rather to expand it to include the two nations, as it is the two nations that would be harmed by damaged relations.