Sanctioning Syria: Who Loses?

Economic sanctions are arrogant open acts of war against other nations. Their goal is to devastate the lower and middle classes and to weaken the country. The regime of the imposing country believes that its economy is superior and is so influential that other countries are so dependent on it and could not survive without it.

Economic sanctions are deceitfully justified as punishing a ruthless political regime and protecting human rights of an oppressed people. Such people are the most devastated when their economy is hurt while the ruling regime may become more oppressive in its reaction in order to protect and to preserve itself. Case in point is the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who died due to lack of medicine during the economic embargo after the Gulf War while the Iraqi regime had its own reserve of all kinds of medications stored for itself.

The sanctioning regime hopes that the sanctioned population would hurt so bad that, with some external encouragement and hope for economic relief; they would rise up and topple their own regime. The other scenario is that the military industry of the sanctioned regime becomes so weak and ineffective that the regime would not stand a chance in any military confrontation, similar to what happened in Iraq.

Such scenarios take place in a country that is faced with sanctions by the majority of the international community. On the other hand countries facing partial sanctions rise up to the challenge and become more self-sufficient and more independent. Cuba, with the longest economic embargo, North Korea and Iran are examples of such countries. Due to its large size and important natural resources, Iran had advanced its industry even to achieve nuclear technology.

Due to its leadership in resisting the Zionist expansionist plans in the Middle East, and for supporting the national resistance and liberation groups of Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas, and due to its alliance with Iran, Syria was subjected to many Western schemes of regime change. The whole Arab Spring movement has been primarily orchestrated and geared towards regime change in Syria, that is meant eventually to lead to a regime change in Iran; a frontier for Russia and China. Under the justification of protecting the lives of Syrian civilians rebelling against their government and protecting their humanitarian rights, Syria is subjected to economic sanctions imposed first by Western countries then by the Arab League.

Economic sanctions are not new to Syria, who was subjected to such sanctions since mid 1970’s imposed by the US. Since then Syria had risen to this challenge and had developed immunity against sanctions. What is new today is that the Arab League, with many of its member countries, joined by Turkey, had also imposed economic sanctions against Syria. The Arab League, with the leadership of Qatar, has been manipulated and used as a Trojan horse by an American-British-French triad to topple Syrian regime and to inflict the country with a civil war, similar to Libya, in the service of terrorist Israel and the expansionist Zionist plan in the Middle East.

The Syrian economy is not dependent nor tied to any Western economy, thus these sanctions have no real effect on Syria. Syria is mainly an agricultural country and thus is mostly self-sufficient except in the technological sector which is filled mainly by Asian countries such as China, India, Russia and Iran. Also Syria has good economic trade with some Latin American countries.

Many neighboring Arab countries such as the Gulf States, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon import and are dependent on Syrian agricultural products. Lebanon and Iraq rejected the Arab League sanction and continue trade with Syria. The mostly desert Jordan shares borders with Syria and is heavily dependent on Syrian food products and water resources. Many Jordanian students study in Syrian universities. Jordan will be greatly hurt by the sanctions. So the Jordanian king requested the Arab League to provide relief to Jordan and to be treated as an exception in the sanctions.

Expecting the sanctions, Syria had withdrawn its money from the rest of the Arab central banks, especially the Jordanian Central Bank, causing a shortage and crises in these banks. Gulf States, especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have to compensate for these shortages. Food prices in Syrian neighboring countries may double to cover the extra expenses of importing food from other resources. The tourism industry will also suffer greatly. Tourists, who used to travel to neighboring Syria, now have to pay extra for travelling to more distant countries.

Some energy companies, who are invested in Syria and now withdrawing, will also suffer greatly for abiding with the sanctions. French companies are the largest losers in these sanctions. French Total Oil Company, Lafarge Construction Company, and Airbus Company will lose millions of dollars worth of investment in Syria.

Royal Dutch Shell had also announced its withdrawal from Syria with a loss of 40% shares of oil production; a huge investment in the industry.

Canadian Suncor Energy, the second largest Canadian oil company, had announced cessation of its oil, gas and electricity production in Syria. Suncor had big investments that include 50-50 joint venture with the Syrian General Petroleum Corporation producing about 80 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, and roughly 1,000 barrels of oil per day. Suncor’s cessation will cost the company a lot of money and privileges.

Syria used to export about 150,000 barrels of oil per day to European countries, which comprised roughly 30% of Syria’s total revenue. The withdrawal of these energy companies and the ban on oil imports from Syria are planned to have a great impact on Syria’s ability to produce and export oil and gas, and thus devastate the country’s economy. Fortunately this is far away from reality and the real loss was to these energy companies and to European consumers, who have now to pay more money to compensate for these losses and to cover the cost of importing oil from more expensive sources.

The withdrawal of these European energy companies had created a golden opportunity for other eager energy companies to fill this vacancy. State-owned companies of countries, who rejected the sanctions, including the China National Petroleum Corporation and India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, have made significant investments in the Syrian energy industry offering Syria better deals than their European counterparts. Russia and Iran are expected soon to follow. Iran had already signed an all inclusive trade agreement with Syria on December 13th.

Turkey’s role in the Syrian crisis draws special attention. In the recent past Turkey has improved its trade dealing with Syria tremendously. Now-a-days Turkey had turned its face complete 180 degrees and started criticizing and even directly attacking the Syrian regime. It also seems that Turkey, a non-Arab country, had occupied the Syrian seat in the Arab League. Turkey had played a great role with Qatar in persuading the Arab League to declare sanctions against Syria. Turkey was the first to adopt the sanctions by freezing $110 million of Syrian money in its banks, by imposing high taxes on imported Syrian products, and by declaring a safe zone on its Syrian borders to protect what is called Free Syrian Army (FSA); a terrorist group who attack the Syrian army and terrorize Syrian civilians loyal to Bashar Al-Assad.

Turkey’s slap had returned to its face. Turkey has more than $250 million worth of investment in Syria that will be lost. Syria had countered with banning Turkish goods. Turkish sanction came as blessings in disguise to Syria, whose industry, comprising 27% of its economy, had suffered from the past Turkish-Syrian trade agreement because of cheap Turkish goods that were favored over the local Syrian goods. After the Turkish sanctions, the local Syrian industries have revived. Recep Tayyip Ordogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, is faced now with huge criticism from oppositional parties as well as his own accusing him of harboring terrorist group (FSA) in Turkey.

The economic sanctions have caused an important political awakening in Syria. The decisions of the Arab League in dealing with the Syrian crisis in particular and with the Arab Spring movement in general, particularly in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain, had shown the League without any further doubt as a political tool manipulated by the West to oppress Arabs, keep their land divided, and to open their natural resources for theft. It had never served any Arab national causes. As for the primary Arab cause: the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the League had given Israel 10 long years, so far, to respond to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative while not giving Syria more than just one week to deal with its rebels before imposing sanctions. For rebuffing their Peace Initiative major Arab leaders had welcomed Israel to open embassies in the capitals rather than fighting Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

While aggressively and hastily supporting the alleged popular Syrian revolution against the ruling regime the League refuse to accept support petition letters from leaders of genuine popular revolution against very oppressive regimes of Yemen and Bahrain.

When Syrian citizens rallied behind their leadership, the president of the supposed Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, hurried back to his Western handlers licking their hands begging for more support. He declared that once receiving Syrian leadership he would cut ties with Iran, end arms supplies to Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas, and would negotiate with Israel over Golan Heights.

Economic sanctions against Syria are blessings in disguise. Economically they challenged Syrians to become more independent and look for other avenues for trade. The sanctions, rather than splitting Syria from Iran, have really pushed Syria deeper into Iran’s arms. They have also awakened Syrian national pride and loyalty to their country and leadership. The realities of many Arab leaders and the Arab League have been clearly exposed as Western puppets.

Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer of Palestinian descent, born in the town of Beit-Jala and now living in the US. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Elias.