What the Arab League's Sanctions on Syria Mean

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The Arab League has approved a long list of unprecedented economic sanctions on Syria designed to force the government to curb violence against antigovernment protestors. According to Bloomberg, television station al- Arabiya is reporting 26 protestors were killed today in Syria. The United Nations has reported 3,500 deaths since March. 

The Arab League met Saturday to discuss a list of possible sanctions after Syria failed to meet a Friday deadline to end the violence against protestors advocating the end of President Bashar Al-Assad's regime. The Wall Street Journal is reporting the list of sanctions include, "travel bans on high-level regime officials, freezing of their bank accounts, blocking the sale of "nonessential" commodities into Syria, halting transactions with the Syrian central bank, and ending financing for all Arab-funded projects in Syria." Arab League officials said the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to try and stop the violence in Syria without any foreign military involvement.

19 of the 22 countries that make up the Arab League supported the list of sanctions. Experts are saying the economic effects of the sanctions will be limited, because the three countries that didn't support the sanctions are Syria's biggest economic partners. Per the New York Times

Economists estimate that about 50 percent of Syrian trade is with the Arab world, but the largest chunk of that is with its immediate neighbors, including Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.

Iraq abstained from the sanctions vote, and Lebanon “disassociated” itself from the vote, Mr. Jassem said. Both countries said they would not enforce the sanctions, while Jordan has issued mixed signals.

Syria takes pride in its ties to the Arab world, and some are speculating the sanctions are meant to have psychological effects as well as economic ones. The sanctions are meant to send a message that the Arab world is rejecting Syria, who have long considered themselves the, "beating heart of Arabism." The Times spoke to an "Arab expert" in Damascus who said, "No trade with the Arabs would hurt more than any sanctions thus far. But it is really all part of the battle for legitimacy." 

The Arab League has never "drafted such sanctions before and lacks a legal mechanism to enforce them," but analysts told the Wall Street Journal they have likely looked to U.S. and Euro sanctions on Syria as a model. Qatar's Sheikh Hamad told the Journal, "There have been revolts in a lot of countries because we have not been doing our jobs. We are not 100% right, but we are trying to be correct. We are trying to take serious steps."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.