Egypt’s FM visits Syria for 1st time in decade, as isolation of Assad regime weakens

After devastating earthquake, Sameh Shoukry is greeted by his counterpart at Damascus airport, as Arab outreach increases to government long shunned over civil war

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad (R) arrive for a press conference at the foreign ministry headquarters in Damascus on February 27, 2023. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad (R) arrive for a press conference at the foreign ministry headquarters in Damascus on February 27, 2023. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP)

DAMASCUS, Syria — Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrived Monday in Damascus, the latest example of Arab outreach to Syria’s internationally isolated government since it and Turkey were hit by a devastating earthquake.

Shoukry’s trip shows “solidarity with Syria in the face of the consequences of the earthquake,” said the official news agency SANA, adding he was welcomed at Damascus airport by his counterpart Faisal Mekdad.

Egypt’s foreign ministry said the visit by Shoukry, who is also due to visit Turkey, was “a message of solidarity by Egypt with these two brotherly countries after the earthquake” of February 6 that killed nearly 46,000 people in both countries.

Cairo has had tense relations with the two countries for a decade.

In the aftermath of the quake, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad, in the first official exchange between the two leaders.

Shoukry also spoke with Mekdad, and Egypt sent three planes and two boats loaded with humanitarian aid to the quake-hit Arab country.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad (R) meets with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri at the foreign ministry headquarters during a visit to Damascus on February 27, 2023. (Photo by Louai Beshara / AFP)

Assad has been politically isolated in the region since the start of the 12-year civil war in Syria.

While Cairo and Damascus have largely maintained relations during the conflict, the Cairo-based Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 and some other Arab countries have severed ties with it.

But since the earthquake, the Syrian president has received calls and aid from Arab leaders, a momentum analysts say he could leverage to bolster regional support.

On Sunday, a delegation of Arab parliamentary leaders met with Assad in Damascus, including the speaker of Egypt’s parliament, Hanafy al-Gebali.

Egyptian state media described him as “the most senior Egyptian official to visit Damascus” in over a decade.

Egypt’s official position on Syria has called for “a political solution,” steering clear of discussing the fate of Assad himself, whose departure has long been demanded by several Arab leaders.

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