Enab Baladi – Jana Alisa
The Syrian question has often been a point of disagreement or reconciliation on the negotiating table between influential actors. Recently, several questions have been raised about the expected Turkish-Saudi reconciliation and its implications for Syria at different levels, including militarization as the two countries support different Syrian military groups.
After four years of severance of Turkish-Saudi relations, Turkish Foreign Minister MevlÃ¼t ÃavuÅoÄlu, on May 10, paid a two-day visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Although Saudi Arabia made only brief statements after the visit, ÃavuÅoÄlu guest his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, will visit Turkey in the near future. He also expressed the will of the two countries to maintain the dialogue “to resolve their disagreements”.
Reduce SDF pressure on Ankara
Bilal Salaymeh, researcher at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), said Enab Baladi that Saudi Arabia’s reconciliation with Turkey would probably not have a major impact on the Syrian issue or lead to dynamic change on Syrian territory. However, he predicted little change in Saudi Arabia’s relations with some political actors on the Syrian question.
He stressed that there could be a change in Saudi Arabia’s policy with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the military arm of the autonomous administration that controls areas in northeastern Syria. Syria, or some of the parts east of the Euphrates. . It should be noted that Riyadh has used its relations with these parties to put pressure on Ankara in recent years.
Saudi Arabia reinforced its relations with the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration after Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan met with US officials in northeastern Syria in 2019, in addition to several elders, notables and administrators of the tribes and councils of Deir Ezzor governorate. This visit is considered the second after his visit to Raqqa in 2017.
The first visit took place after the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) and the Turkish offensives in northern Syria. The visit was interpreted as an attempt to support the SDF against Ankara, whose relations with Riyadh have known diplomatic tensions.
However, a source from the SDF said the new arabic newspaper that the visit focused on Saudi Arabia’s funding of Washington-backed Arab forces to stop Iranian expansion attempts in northeastern Syria.
Searcher Bilal Salaymeh expects the Turkish-Saudi reconciliation to affect the structure and leadership of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC). The election of personalities who have assumed leadership positions within the CNS in recent years was linked to the regional balance of power in the Syrian conflict.
According to the researcher, Turkey has gained more influence over the leadership of the SNC with the slowdown in Turkish-Saudi relations.
He added that restoring Turkish-Saudi relations would lead to some sort of consensus on who will lead the coalition.
The National Coalition for the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, commonly known as SNC, was formed in November 2012, after several meetings between a group of politicians opposed to the Syrian regime and members of the revolutionary uprising in the Qatari capital Doha. The SNC presented itself as an opposition coordination group against the Syrian regime. The SNC has been chaired since its creation by nine Syrian politicians.
The Arab Gulf States have recognized the coalition as “the legitimate representative” of the Syrian people and have withdrawn their recognition of the current regime led by Bashar al-Assad. The CNS has been recognized by the League of Arab States as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, with the exception of Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon.
But the SNC was greeted by many criticisms and accusations concerning its political performances and the lack of completeness of all the poles of opposition.
The National Coalition for the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces is considered the largest body of the opposition; in areas controlled by the opposition, it has a military arm represented by the Syrian National Army (SNA) and an administrative arm represented by the interim government (IG).
Saudi-Turkish antagonism exacerbated divisions in the Syrian opposition
Since the start of 2021, disputes have resurfaced between the components of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which was formed at the Riyadh I conference on December 10, 2015.
During the Riyadh II conference held in November 2017, the Cairo and Moscow platforms were included in the HNC.
There has been an apparent split within the HNC, with roots dating back to December 2019, to what is known as the âindependent opposition groupâ crisis.
The âcrisis of independentsâ arose at HNC in 2019, after the Saudi capital, Riyadh, welcomed large numbers of Syrians to replace them with independents from the HNC. But he failed to name eight new people.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized by senior Syrian opposition figures who Enab Baladi interviewed earlier because of his support for the Coordinating Committee and the Cairo and Moscow platforms. Suadi Arabia seeks to increase its influence in the Syrian opposition through these components, to the detriment of “Turkish influence”, according to the Saudi vision.
Turkey is the main supporter of the SNC, the largest opposition bloc. It also supports the largest opposition military formations, the SNA in northern Syria, and maintains good relations with the Kurdish National Council (KNC).
Crisis of the independents: what is the role of Saudi Arabia?
The HNC consists of 36 members distributed as follows: eight from the SNC, four from the Cairo platform and four from the Moscow platform, in addition to eight independent members, seven from the military factions and five from the Coordination Committee . Each member has one vote in the HNC.
The spokesperson for the independents opposition group, Muhanad al-Kate, ‘said Enab Baladi that the mandate of the âformer independentsâ ended about two years ago.
Before the Conference of Independents was held in December 2019, Saudi Arabia asked the HNC to prepare for the elections, but the SNC then extended by three months under the pretext of military operations in the northwest of the country. Syria, according to al-Kate ‘.
At that time, letters were sent to all parties in the HNC to prepare for the election, according to al-Kate ‘.
He indicated that this was the only mechanism for scaling independents.
He explained that âthose who have not been invited to the first conference will be invited to the second. This turns into a mechanism for appointing freelancers to avoid monopolizing the position. “
Al-Kate ‘argued that the Syrian Independence Crisis began when the HNC regulations were ignored, the outgoing independents and the head of the HNC were kept in the commission. Then the HNC was completely disrupted after the meeting, which Saudi Arabia sponsored, as internationally responsible for the auspices of the HNC.
Reasons for reconciliation and chances of success?
Since the end of 2020, Turkey has shown its willingness to establish relations with various countries and to consolidate relations with other countries after tensions and disagreements with the European Union, the United States and the Arab countries.
The Turkish President expressed his country’s openness to improving relations during the current year and said: âWe have no problem or difficult problem with Europe, the United States, Russia, China or any other country in the region. â
Turkey intends to renormalize some of its troubled relations, such as its relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. It aims to reposition itself at the regional level and to organize its file in foreign policy, according to Bilal Salaymeh.
Salaymeh believes that Turkey’s decisions to restore relations with some countries due to political pressure from the United States on Turkey. Turkey experienced difficult economic conditions after US President Joe Biden came to power. In addition, Turkey maintains strained relations with the European Union due to the Eastern Mediterranean issue and strained relations with Cyprus and Greece.
Salaymeh viewed Saudi Arabia as a “hesitant position” on returning to relations with Turkey. Two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia sent a “negative” message by closing some Turkish schools in Riyadh. At the same time, a number of Saudi schools in Istanbul and Ankara have also been closed.
Turkish affairs and international relations researcher Taha Odeh OÄlu said in an interview with Enab Baladi, that according to the data, restoring diplomatic channels between Ankara and Riyadh is not easy, given that tensions between them peaked in many years following open statements by the two countries. This made the opportunity to deal with the issue diplomatically more difficult.
Taha Odeh OÄlu believes that the region is currently trying to adapt to international changes, chiefly of which is the Biden administration. The new administration of the United States requires the countries of the region to adopt a new foreign discourse commensurate with the scene.
Relations between Ankara and Riyadh have witnessed heightened tensions following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at his country’s consulate in Istanbul.