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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube 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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid