As part of an official visit that has been discussed at great length, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz arrived in Damascus at the invitation of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. When we say this has been discussed at great length it is because there is a lot of anticipation surrounding this visit from the Arabs and the West, even more anticipation than from Saudi Arabia and Syria, especially as it comes after tense relations between the two countries which caused difficult and serious challenges.
It is justified when we say difficult and serious challenges. The simplest example of this is when I asked a colleague on the airplane from Jeddah to Damascus if he had been to Syria before and he answered “a number of times.” When he saw that I was surprised he said, “I visited Syria as part of the delegation accompanying King Abdullah when he was Crown Prince, as we would always come here even for a matter of hours.” Therefore, when visits between the two countries stopped, and particularly when King Abdullah stopped visiting Damascus, this had significant implications.
King Abdullah’s visits to Syria, which were common and frequent, are today considered historical and an important point in relations between the two regional states, as our region and its causes are now facing decisive moments on the Arab, regional and international levels. Consequently, King Abdullah’s visit to Syria has stoked up a lot of anticipation, as there are swift efforts surrounding the peace process, and the Saudis are involved in this. This concerns the Syrians in a number of ways, most prominently Turkey mediation between Syria and Israel, which might advance Syrian-US ties. Moreover, the region in its entirety is in a state of anticipation with regards to the West’s negotiations with Iran on its nuclear file and what might happen as a result of these negotiations. Whatever the outcome, whether positive or negative, it will have major repercussions on the region and we must remember here that part of Iran’s proposal to the West was to negotiate on the region and its causes.
We are also facing the issue of Syrian-Iraqi relations, especially considering recent disputes and Iraq’s threat of consulting the UN over the bloody Wednesday bombings, and this threat comes at a time when Syrian-Iraqi relations are not in the best of conditions. In addition to that there is the inter-Palestinian issue and this is something that has been handled by Cairo whose ties with Syria are also not in the best of conditions.
Then there is the Lebanese issue, and if we look at the temperature of Beirut and its residents now, we would find that it is at boiling point in anticipation of the outcome of this visit. I was surprised when I asked Lebanese media figures and friends about this high level of anticipation, which I didn’t understand until the car we were in quickly left Damascus airport for the hotel and the first signpost we saw on the main road read ‘Damascus/Lebanon’ and then it said ‘Welcome to Damascus’. I smiled, fully aware of the Lebanese concern, especially as there are areas, or side roads on the way from the airport to the city center before the road leading to Lebanon!
All of the above are not simple issues and it is difficult to ignore any one of them. Therefore, the visit [of King Abdullah to Syria] is an important one, just as it is dangerous to raise the level of expectation surrounding it. What we must realize is that the visit of the Saudi monarch to Damascus is just like the rain; there are those who will love it and those who will hate it!