On Wednesday the 17th of June, all of Lebanon was holding its breath, as the now notorious “Caesar Act” was set to come into force. Indeed, concerns that Lebanon’s crisis could worsen following the act rose, at a time the country is seeking help from international instances.
WHAT IS THE CAESAR ACT ?
Officially known as the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019”, it’s a bipartisan law passed by the US government, and is part of a major US defense spending bill. It aims to sanction any government or private entity that assists the Syrian regime or contributes to the reconstruction of Syria, hence tightening even more the American grip on the Damascus regime.
The law aims to prevent any normalization by countries like Lebanon of the Syrian regime and to hinder reconstruction efforts. The bill implies that any country that hosts people or companies doing so will be targeted by this law that was set to be effective as of June 17th, with a first batch of sanctions.
It targets specific sectors including oil and gas, military aircraft, construction and engineering, as well as individual assets, regardless of the person’s nationality.
WHY “CAESAR” THOUGH?
Caesar is the code name of a former Syrian military police photographer who fled Syria in 2014 with thousands of photos of grueling evidence of people tortured by the regime, and most of whom died in Assad’s regime’s jails. His images gained a lot of notoriety and were widely used around the world to publicize the Syrian regime brutality.
THE IMPACT ON LEBANON
Though Lebanon or Lebanese personalities or entities were not included in the first batch of sanctions, there will be further rounds during summer that will include Lebanon. Any personality or entity cooperating with the Damascus regime, including Lebanese banks, should see that as a warning and should be worried. Although the act exempts import of essential food and humanitarian items from sanctions, it adds an extra layer of scrutiny to aid sent or required by Lebanon. Hopefully, Lebanon not being the primary target, the US will show leniency. Otherwise, our country’s situation might turn even more disastrous.
If indeed sanctions against Assad’s regime will affect Lebanon’s economic crisis, it may then fuel more illicit trade with Syria, creating even more unrest over the divisive issue of ties with our neighbor.
The two countries have a long history of smuggling and clandestine ties, and making formal trade more difficult may really drive commerce further underground, further depleting Lebanon’s already strained dollar supply. Aside from potential economic effects, the act could also fuel tensions in Lebanon’s already divided political landscape.