Name? Bashar al-Assad
Westphalian identity? Syrian
Why is he in the news? Two weeks ago, Assad held elections in Syria and surprise … he won! After holding power for 21 years now, Assad secured a fourth term as Syrian President. He won 95% of the vote with 78% participation according to his own sources as international observers were not allowed.
Why do we care? Why hold elections when nobody participates, the outcome is clear, and nobody accepts them as legitimate? Because holding an election sends a clear message to the world that at only 55 years old, and after de-facto winning the Syrian Civil War, Assad is here to stay and the world better deal with it.
Why should you care? Because the world has accepted it. Trump pulled out of Syria in 2019 and left the country at the goodwill of his Russian counterpart Putin. Putin helped Assad win the civil war. Not only is Russia Assad’s ally, but also Iran, very much to the disliking of the Arab world. Nevertheless, since the elections, Arab countries have restarted talks with Syria in an attempt to minimise the influence of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Who else cares? MBS and MBZ. While the Saudis and the UAE actively supported groups fighting against Assad, now that the war is over, they are keen to engage again with the Syrian leader. Iran has multiple militias in Syria and some stationed very close to Saudi territory, MBS cannot afford another Iranian outpost sending weaponized drones towards the kingdom. Meanwhile, the MBZ is mainly concerned about the increasing influence of political Islam threatening Gulf monarchies, namely the Muslim Brotherhood.
Any further comments? In all of this, the Biden Administration has clocked out completely. Its main foreign policy focus has been on containing China’s influence, leaving the Middle East up to its regional powers; so long as they do not go directly against US interests of course.