News / Middle East

Arab League Sanctions Could Hurt Syria's Regional Standing, Economic Agenda

The Arab League's overwhelming approval of sanctions against Syria has dealt a significant blow to the regional standing of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Sunday's vote in Cairo marks the first time in the league's 66-year history that it has imposed punitive economic and political sanctions on any of its 22 members.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, says the move also is unprecedented because of Syria's status within the regional bloc. "This is one of the six founding members of the Arab League, and a Syria which has always championed Pan-Arabism," he says. "So to exclude Syria in effect from the Arab nation through this way I think will have probably the biggest effect on the situation."

Nineteen of the Arab League's members approved measures, including stopping transactions with the Syrian central bank, cutting off Arab government investment in Syrian projects, and imposing travel bans and asset freezes on Mr. Assad and his aides. The sanctions are designed to pressure Damascus into implementing an Arab League plan to end the government's deadly eight-month crackdown on dissent and allow observers to monitor its compliance.

Shaikh says the league's suspension of dealings with the Syrian central bank will be the most effective measure. "This will cut the money lifeline that Syrian businesses have to trade with the Arab world in particular. We have to remember that half of Syrian trade is with the Arab world, and a quarter of all of Syria's imports come from the region," he says.

Stopping Arab direct investment also is likely to hurt the Syrian government, according to the Brookings analyst. He says Mr. Assad has relied on the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to pay for projects that have helped him to liberalize Syria's largely-state run economy. "If there is now a blanket ban on those investments, I don't think Mr. Assad can point to any kind of reform, not even on the economic side. Businesses are lying idle, and contracts have dried up."

Shaikh says the impact of the travel bans and asset freezes on Syrian leaders is primarily as a message to other government officials and pro-Assad business figures that they may be next.

Arab League officials say they want to avoid causing any suffering to the wider Syrian population. In Sunday's vote, the league agreed not to penalize remittances sent by Syrian expatriates to their families. Hundreds of thousands Syrians work in Gulf nations.

Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London, says the most important effect of the sanctions may be the erosion of the Assad government's legitimacy in the eyes of some parts of the population that have been hesitant to join the opposition uprising.

He says the merchants of Damascus and Aleppo have been waiting for a clearer response to the uprising from the international community. Until Sunday, the only major sanctions facing Syria included U.S. and European Union bans on Syrian exports of oil and other products.

But, Shehadi says the impact of all sanctions on Syria is undermined by the lack of a clear international position on Mr. Assad's fate.

"The United States and Europe have expressed a lot of concern about what happens after Mr. Assad leaves, including the risk of all-out civil war," he says. "This gives Mr. Assad the impression that major powers think he is indispensable and would really like him to stay and reform."

Shehadi says the lack of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown gives Mr. Assad another cushion. Russia and China vetoed such a resolution last month, fearing that it could encourage Western powers to stage the same kind of military intervention in Syria that they launched in Libya this year on the basis of an earlier resolution.

The Chatham House expert says another factor that may undermine the sanctions is that Arab League decisions are non-binding on its members. Lebanon joined Syria in rejecting the measures, and Iraq abstained.

Shaikh of Brookings says Lebanon opposes the sanctions because its dominant political force, the Hezbollah militant group, is part of an alliance with the Assad government and Iran.

Shaikh says the reluctance of Iraq's Shi'ite-led government to endorse the sanctions also may be due to its relationship with Shi'ite-majority Iran. He says Iraq now faces a choice of whether or not to enforce the measures.


Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs