The “grotesque rehabilitation” of Bashar al-Assad makes sense to cynical Arab governments, says Simon Tisdall in The Observer. Inviting Syria’s “criminal president” to this week’s Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia is part of an understandable effort by regional powers to reduce Damascus’s reliance on Iran, encourage Syrian refugees to go home, crack down on state-sponsored drug rackets, and cash in on reconstruction. “But from a human perspective, their decision is utterly shameful.” More than 300,000 civilians have died since Assad turned his guns on his own people during the 2011 Arab spring uprising, while 14 million have fled their homes. And the conflict is far from over.
War crimes and crimes against humanity, including the use of chemical weapons, are well-documented: Russia has joined Syrian “air strikes, cluster bomb and rocket attacks” on refugee camps; arbitrary arrests and torture remain rife. “Yet there is no prospect of Assad facing justice.” Fellow tyrant Vladimir Putin was swiftly indicted by the International Criminal Court after he invaded Ukraine. “So why not the butcher of Damascus?” Instead, the Syrian president is “feted, forgiven and rewarded” by Gulf plutocrats who care more about “oil prices, palaces and Premier League soccer clubs” than the lives of their fellow Arabs. And talk of widening détente bringing peace to the region looks like “wishful thinking”. Assad’s Syria is split between a Turkish-occupied northwest “where jihadists roam free”, a Kurdish northeast “viscerally hostile to Damascus”, and the regime-controlled centre and south. The situation will remain “deeply unstable” whatever happens.