UAE appoints first ambassador to Syria in 13 years

The first United Arab Emirates ambassador to Damascus in nearly 13 years took up his post on Tuesday as Syria has been reintegrating into mainstream regional acceptance.

Syrian state media said the country’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad received Ambassador Hassan Ahmad al-Shihi’s credentials.

The UAE embassy was re-opened in Syria in late 2018 and a charge d’affaires has been in charge of the diplomatic mission since then. Al-Shihi arrived in Damascus on Monday, reported the pro-government daily Al-Watan.

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Syrian President Bashar Assad visited the Gulf country in March 2022, the first Arab country to receive him since Syria’s civil war erupted nearly 13 years ago. Following the Feb. 6, 2023 earthquake that killed more than 50,000 in Turkey and about 8,000 in Syria, the UAE sent dozens of planes loaded with aid to Syria.

In May, the 22-member Arab League agreed to reinstate Syria, ending a 12-year suspension and taking another step toward bringing Assad, a long-time regional pariah, back into the fold. Assad, who visited the UAE twice since 2022, took part in the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia in May.

Al-Shihi’s arrival came as Syria is in the grips of a severe economic crisis, part of it as a result of the conflict that has killed half a million people, displaced millions of others and left large parts of the country destroyed.

Bashar al-Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen addressing the Parliament in Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/SANA, File)

The reconciliation between Damascus and oil-rich Arab countries is not likely to lead to a flow of money into the war-torn country because of Western sanctions, which, along with the war and widespread corruption have led to Syria’s severe economic crisis.

The U.S. dollar now is worth 16,000 Syrian pounds. At the start of the conflict in March 2011, the dollar was trading at 47 pounds.

The United Nations estimates that 90% of Syrians in government-held areas live in poverty. More than half the population — some 12 million people — struggle to put food on the table, the U.N. estimates. Things could get worse now that the World Food Program said it will end in January its main assistance program across Syria.

The United Arab Emirates was a supporter of the Syrian opposition, which is now largely confined to the northwestern Idlib province after losing its strongholds elsewhere.

The UAE recalled its ambassador from Syria in 2011 after the start of the popular uprising against Assad. The Syrian Embassy in the UAE remained open.

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Last month, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Ayman Soussan, was named as the country’s new ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

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