Which MENA Economies Have Been Subject to US Sanctions?

Published August 24th, 2020 - 03:00 GMT
Which MENA Economies Have Been Subject to US Sanctions?
The US imposes sanctions on six governments worldwide, including Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan. (Shutterstock: Zwiebackesser)

For years, strong countries have used economic sanctions as a means to exert pressure on governments that don't serve their goals or cooperate with powers they deem hostile. Over the last 50 years, the US has been amongst the countries that used economic sanctions the most. But how many times have they targeted countries in the MENA region?

Over the past few months, we have extensively heard of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, referring to the US law that imposes economic sanctions on the Syrian government especially the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, for what has been described as "committing war crimes against the Syrian population." However, Syria is only one example of countries that have been the target of US sanctions in the region.

Currently, the US imposes sanctions on six governments worldwide, including Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan.

In other countries such as Lebanon, Somalia, Bahrain, and Iraq, occasional sanctions have been targeting certain organizations or individuals who, according to US officials, are affiliated with terrorist activities, such as Hezbollah and Al-Shabaab organizations.

1. Syria

Despite close relationships between Syria and the US during the 1990s, mostly due to cooperation during the 1990 Gulf War, the two countries witnessed the first tensions when Syria opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

During that year, the Bush administration enacted several Executive Orders imposing economic sanctions on many Syrian individuals. However, the first US set of sanctions to directly target the Syrian government was imposed following an Executive Order signed by Barack Obama in August 2011, following police violent reaction to mass protests that erupted in a number of cities in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The US statement "blocked and prohibited all kinds of trade interactions with the Syrian governments, citing "the Government of Syria’s continuing escalation of violence against the people of Syria."

Sanctions included investments and contracts for exchanging petroleum products and arms. In May 2012, the Syrian government reported a $4 billion worth of financial losses.

Following enacting the Ceaser Act last June, through which the Syrian president and other officials have been targeted, the Syrian lira dropped to 2400 in comparison with the US dollar, after years of being fixed at 700.

2. Sudan

Sudan has been the target of US sanctions since the early 1990s, mostly during the reign of now-ousted president Omar al-Bashir, whose policies led the US to believe that he had connections with global terror networks.

Ever since 1993, most US administrations have added even more strict sanctions against Sudan and businesses owned by its government, which was dubbed then as a "sponsor of terrorism."

In 2005, Sudan's continued complicity in unabated violence in Darfur, an area rich in oil, urged Geoge Bush to impose a new set of sanctions against 133 businesses and individuals related to the violence in Darfur.

Due to US sanctions over more than 25 years, Sudan lost an estimate of $500 billion.

Following a national uprising uprooting Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, the US had shown a more open approach to Sudan. In March 2020, the Khartoum Central Bank was informed of a US decision to lift sanctions that had been imposed on more than 150 Sudanese businesses.

3. Libya

In 1981, a US-Libyan military confrontation over the Mediterranean resulted in years-long tensions between the two countries, especially as the US bombed targets in Tripoli and Benghazi killing 15 people and injuring hundreds.

In 1982, the U.S. Government prohibited imports of Libyan crude oil into the United States and expanded the controls on U.S.-origin goods intended for export to Libya. Licenses were required for all transactions except for food and medicine and all Libyan government assets in the United States were frozen. Additionally, a 1985 decision prohibited all Export-Import Bank financing.

Until 2002, Libya had reported a $30 billion loss due to US sanctions.

Despite strengthening relations between Libya and the US in 2003, the 2011 Arab spring and Libyan government's violent response to protests aiming to overthrow the 40-year-old rule of Muammar Al-Gaddafi was met with an end to diplomatic ties and renewed US economic sanctions against high-ranking officials. Sanctions were lifted later that year after Al-Gaddafi's death in October 2011.

With the change of rulers and regimes in the region, there may be less sanctions and opportunities for development or so we hope. 

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