For a disorganized and divided organization like the Arab League, this week’s decision to impose sanctions on Syria is a big move — the first of its kind. The Washington Post reports:
The Arab League on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a series of economic sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including freezing the assets of senior figures, banning high-level Syrian officials from visiting Arab nations and ending dealings with the country’s central bank…“The sanctions will put pressure not just on the institutions targeted but on the whole economy, and will certainly destroy what remains of investment confidence,” said a banker in neighboring Lebanon, where public revenues have been heavily impacted by the turmoil in Syria.“It is going to have tangible effects as well as a very strong political message,” he added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Syria’s biggest asset — its relationship with Iran — is now turning out to be its Achilles Heel. For the predominately Sunni Arab League, the Sunni-led revolt against the pro-Iran Alawite leadership in Syria is a heaven sent opportunity to counter Iranian influence and break the “Shi’a Crescent” that extends from Iran to Lebanon via Syria and Iraq.Assad’s problem is that he needs Iran more than ever, but his ties to Iran are dragging him down. He cannot live with or without Tehran in a region where a Sunni resurgence is sweeping everything before it.The Arab League sanctions will be diluted thanks to Iraq, which is led by a Shia-leaning coalition, and the power of Iranian and Syrian backed forces in Lebanon will also have its effect. Non-Arab Turkey will play its own game in its own time. Nevertheless, the vote in the Arab league shows how battle lines between the Sunni and Shia worlds are being drawn. For Assad, who staked his legitimacy on secular Arab nationalism that marginalized sectarian divisions, the Islamic resurgence has left him without a political anchor.