Around 95 Arab personalities and Christian clerics have petitioned French, American, German and British governments to lift the sanctions set against the Assad regime for having caused a humanitarian crisis in Syria, according to the petitioners; a message which Syrian analysts unanimously agree on the seriousness of its potential impact on the people.
UN Human Rights Expert Alina Dohan indicated that these sanctions, the Caesar Act in particular, may exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in Syria, and expose the Syrian people to a greater risk of human rights violations.
Several Syrian personalities and human rights and spiritual organizations have responded to that message, which the Syrians fear will be heard by Western and American administrations and will lead to lifting the sanctions and the full reinstatement of Bashal Al-Assad’s regime to power.
Washington-based Syrian researcher Ayman Abdel Nour said that at first, it was believed that the regime itself used these “Arab nationalist” figures and Christian clerics to call for the lift, however, after personally contacting some of the petitioners, he learned that the Secretary General of the Elysee, Alexis Kohler, was the one who contacted them, to convey the desire of the French President, Emmanuel Macron, to sign this “humanitarian appeal” to be used as a lever during his meeting with the American President, Joe Biden. They were later able to confirm that the director of the International Christian Solidarity was assigned to follow up with active Christian figures in most countries of the world to sign the petition.
Abdel Nour explained that, after reviewing the content of the letter, there is a sentence with economic connotations, which states that, “European and American sanctions, especially the Caesar Act, block the entry of aid and the revitalization of trade and investment necessary for the health care and economic development.”
Here one wonders what role clergymen have in trade and investment issues, and whether there is a relation between the petition, President Macron’s efforts to rebuild the port of Beirut, and major French companies’ share in the opportunity for investment in the future reconstruction of Syria and in Lebanon.
According to Abdel Nour, John Anvire, director of the Christian Solidarity Organization, did not respond to the signatories ’demands for amendment, but some of them are about to send a letter of protest against the use of their names in economic and commercial issues. The heads of the largest Christian sects in Syria and Lebanon, the Maronites and the Orthodox, did not sign the petition, so neither the Organization or the French president can use the names of the “Christians of the East” to their ends.
“We are now writing an opposing letter in which we explain that the Caesar Act did not stipulate sanctions on the people and does not include food and medicine, and what Syria suffers from is due to the emigration and killing of qualified people, in addition to corruption and plundering of UN and WHO aid, and the regime’s failure to follow the advice of the World Health Organization to protect the people from the pandemic,” Abdel Nour said. “The regime is starving the Syrian people as a tactic to bring them to their knees.”
Fawaz al-Akhras, Assad’s brother in law, was among the personalities who signed the letter, which was sent on January 21 and which included warnings by the former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program, David Beasley, who said that millions of Syrians are under extreme pressure as a result of the substantial damage that the regime’s healthcare system suffered during the years of the crisis, because of the coercive measures imposed by the United States.
ON January 22, the Wall Street Journal wrote that the US Secretary of State, Treasury and Trade will consult with the Minister of Health and Human Services and the Director of the Agency for International Development, to review US sanctions on Syria and to assess whether the sanctions exasperate the health and living issues.
China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, stated during the Security Council meeting, on January 22, that the unilateral sanctions against Syria should be lifted because the economic and humanitarian difficulties in the country are largely due to the economic blockade and other economic sanctions.
This prompted the Syrian community in the United States to refute the message as misleading, explaining to Biden’s new administration that the Caesar Act did not include food and medicine, and that the deteriorating situation existed before the Act was issued.
According to Radwan Ziadeh, a researcher at the Arab Center in Washington, the US sanctions against the regime are part of the executive branch, which means that the Biden administration can review and possibly remove some of them. However, other sanctions such as the Caesar Act have been imposed by Congress, and the new administration will not be able to lift them without congressional approval.
So far, the Biden administration did not agree to lift the sanctions. In fact, the new foreign minister confirmed that Washington has no intention of lifting the sanctions against the Assad regime, but will perhaps review some that are related to medical aid during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Syrian-American community is strictly against the lift of sanctions and the international normalization of the Assad regime and for the continuation of the sanctions to push it towards a political transition.
The head of the Free Syrian Lawyers Association, Ghazwan Kronfol, stated that a country’s position and policies do not change based on petitions and appeals, “Although I do not expect that the letter will have an active impact, the danger lies in it becoming the beginning of an organized campaign with the approaching presidential elections in Syria scheduled for April and May.”
Kronfol believes that the opposition and international organizations should refute the petition, in order to avoid considering the regime’s “solutions” under pretext of the lack of alternatives.
Syrians are really suffering from deteriorating living conditions that have led to more than 90% poverty and 83% unemployment, with a dire health situation due to the high cost of medication and hospitals as well as a shortage of medical staff.
However, according to economics professor Muslim Talas, these conditions precede the US sanctions and the Caesar Act. Since the start of the revolution, while the exchange rate of the Syrian pound deteriorated significantly, the Assad regime squandered the central bank’s foreign cash reserve, which amounted to about $18 billion in 2011.
Talas said that the Caesar Act had, in fact, greatly affected the regime, and to an extent the Syrian people’s livelihood, however its direct results might not be as apparent since the economic situation was already in decline.
The last package of the Caesar Act, according to Talas, was significant because it affected the regime’s Central Bank, completely obstructing it from transfer, payment, and credit operations with the international banking system associated with the US.
After June of last year, no bank dares to deal with the Central Bank of Damascus, knowing that international banking dealings were limited even before the Caesar package, but the sanctions blocked dealing and most importantly disrupted all business deals and support for Assad with the military equipment he used to kill Syrians.