Middle East

Bashar al-Assad’s dark return to the world stage – podcast

Bashar al-Assad has been condemned by leaders around the world because of the Syrian war – during which millions fled and hundreds of thousands lost their lives. Yet despite being accused of war crimes, and millions of Syrians still being displaced, he is once more being seen at gatherings of heads of state – and has even been invited to Cop 28.

Meanwhile, for the millions of refugees in countries such as Lebanon and Turkey, life has become more difficult. Anti-refugee rhetoric and policies have been on the rise, and one Syrian refugee living in Lebanon tells Michael Safi how a crackdown has left her living in fear that her family will be deported and about the terrible consequences that could lead to.

Patrick Wintour looks at how Assad managed to survive against all the odds and engineer this shocking return. And why a growing drug problem, a desire to return refugees and power struggles in the region have led to a desire to normalise relations with the dictator. Will the West have to follow suit – and what will this mean for the Syrian people?

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi talks with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad before the Arab League summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in May 2023.

Photograph: The Egyptian Presidency/Reuters

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