The sanctions puzzle

The Arab League is getting decisive. Its move to penalise Damascus with stringent sanctions that would widely go on to have a public impact is likely to be played to the gallery by the Baath regime.

To this day, Syria is unrelenting and so is its quasi-civilian President Bashar Al Assad dispensation.

The attempt on the part of Assad to portray Arab League sanctions as one intended to favour Israel for Syria’s principled stance against the Jewish state is real-politick. Though it might not make a difference on the regional and international stage, it could nonetheless serve as a ploy to further suppress public sentiments at home, and carry on with the stone-faced edifice of governance. The sanctions might pinch the regime, but that is unlikely to yield in to give up. This is why many of the members of the 22-member organisation are keeping their fingers crossed, as to what would be their modus operandi if Damascus stares in its face after taking the slap in all adversity.

Syria, nonetheless, doesn’t seem to be lost of friends. The categorical word from Iraq and Lebanon that they won’t be party to the embargo and blockade has come as a blessing in disguise. That makes those sanctions almost irrelevant as both the countries enjoy geographical proximity with Syria and are valuable trade and tourism partners. Coupled with this is the cordiality that Russia and China have for Syria, which is more than enough to take steam out of the sanctions. Such has been the case with Iran, which has survived sanctions for almost three decades by exploiting loopholes of geography and politics. But the fact that League is bent upon seizing Syrian assets in many of the Arab countries could prove quite costly for Damascus along with the proposed commercial travel ban.

The point to ponder is: what’s next? How can Assad be made to comply with the aspirations of its Arab allies and, moreover, the West? Is there a way out apart from sanctions, and secondly are sanctions really that much pinching that it would compel the Baath Party to relinquish power after reigning supreme for more than five decades? These are questions that do not have a perfect-tense answer, and this is where the Arab League should think of an out-of-box solution for a country that couldn’t be cowed down militarily and at the same time can’t be made to fall in line in delivering on the real-politik context. Syria is more than a test case for Arab League, and it shouldn’t just throw away its cards so easily. The puzzle is yet to be solved.

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