There’s much ado about Assad, but what to do about him is the ...

World

There’s much ado about Assad, but what to do about him is the matter

As the Syrian leader enters his fourth term, will he return to the Arab fold or continue cosying up to Iran and Russia?

Lin Noueihed and Selcan Hacaoglu

Entire cities lie in ruins, the economy is collapsing and more than half the population has been displaced, but Bashar al-Assad has emerged as the last man standing from Syria’s decade of war, having played off friend and foe to restore his grip over most of the country.

In power since 2000, Assad is poised to win a fourth seven-year term in Wednesday’s presidential elections. Though the vote has been roundly dismissed by the US and European nations as a sham, the Syrian leader has been bolstered by moves to woo him back into the Arab fold, part of a broader realignment that’s seen Saudi Arabia work to ease tensions with Iran and tamp down conflicts across the Middle East.

Western sanctions on Syria mean Gulf countries are unlikely to invest significantly in reconstruction that’s expected to cost $120bn (about R1,7-trillion) or more, at least for now, but even a diplomatic rapprochement would signal a remarkable shift in regional faultlines that once saw Iran and Saudi Arabia engaged in proxy conflicts from Syria, to Lebanon to Yemen...

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