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EU sanctions on Assad’s family — a symbolic move

March 24, 2012

LONDON: Bashar al-Assad's immediate family - including most of the important women in his life - have been targeted in the latest batch of European Union sanctions designed to squeeze the Damascus regime. But while the 13th round of measures agreed in Brussels may be uncomfortable for the Syrian president's relatives, it is unclear whether they will have more than a symbolic impact.

Maher, Assad's younger brother, and Assef Shawkat, his brother-in-law, were subjected to EU asset freezes and travel bans months ago and both continue to be involved in the brutal repression that the UN estimates has cost the lives of 8,000 people over the last year. The fact that their respective wives - Manal and Bushra, the president's sister - are also on the EU blacklist looks unlikely to cause them to change tack. The same is true of Assad's mother Anisa, the widow of former president Hafez and the woman who is said to wear the trousers in Syria's first family.

EU governments were reluctant to confirm the names of the latest 12 people and entities being targeted for fear they would pre-emptively shift their assets out of reach. But it is likely they have already done that.

In all, 126 individuals and 41 entities have been hit by the sanctions, many of them significant figures in the government and military, security and intelligence services. The EU describes the measures as targeting those directly implicated in violence, benefiting from the regime and associated with it.

UK officials admit Asma al-Assad's position is complicated by her British birth. There was anger among the officials that the UK Border Agency had departed from normal practice and confirmed she held UK citizenship.

The intention was to stop her using assets to buy weapons - "Kalashnikovs and shells rather than Louboutin shoes", one source quipped. An official said: "This is not about responding to the Guardian emails or about her morally repugnant shopping habits while the Syrian people are suffering. This is not a shopping ban. It is bigger and more significant than that."

Opposition figures welcomed the ban but said it would have little effect. Ghassan Ibrahim, an independent, said: "Hitting the family underlines the fact that the country is run like a family business not as a legitimate state. They are like a mafia gang. Assad's brother looks after the military, one brother-in-law runs the business and another runs the secret police, Anisa behaves as if the family owns the country."

Malik al-Abdeh, who runs the opposition Barada TV, said: "This is important for Asma personally. She can no longer market herself as anything other than a dictator's wife. But the actual effect will be inconsequential."

By arrangement with the Guardian