Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime is under increasing financial pressure as the economic sanctions imposed by Western states and some Arab nations are hurting the country. According to Western diplomatic sources, the Syrian government is desperately selling its foreign currency reserves and the country's gold treasures to the highest bidder. Unsurprisingly, many have attacked these sales, and accuse Assad of throwing away the country’s heritage in an effort to stay in power.
According to Western diplomatic sources, the gold bars stored at the Central Bank of Syria are being sold at a great discount to their true worth, with al-Assad's regime using the proceeds to continue fighting rebels. In October last year the Arab League suspended Syria from participating at the organization’s summit – a move al-Assad branded as a betrayal of fundamental Arab values. Political tensions between the Syrian regime and its Arab neighbors have intensified; in November 2011 the Arab League imposed economic sanctions on Syria as the regime opposed letting 500 League monitors enter the country to evaluate the situation in situ. Up until this date, the death toll among the Syrian opposition had already reached 3,500. Members of the opposition have been publicly defying al-Assad on the streets of Damascus and other large Syrian cities.
The economic sanctions are mainly aimed at the Syrian central bank's activities and the important oil export sector. This year the European Union joined the Arab League by imposing its own sanctions on important Syrian politicians – including al-Assad. These measures included freezing politicians' foreign bank accounts and a weapons embargo. So far, the EU sanctions do not include oil. It seems doubtful though that the EU's weapons embargo against Syria will have much effect, given that the Russians have stated that they will continue to support the regime.
However, the economic sanctions signed by a total of 60 nations have so far managed to practically halve the foreign currency reserves held by the Central Bank of Syria. At the end of February the European Union tightened its sanctions, and the 27-country block completely excluded the Central Bank of Syria from gold and other precious metals trading. Now that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have followed this example, the Syrian regime is finding it increasingly difficult to empty its gold vaults. Though many are starting to have second thought about entering into financial deals with Syria, it remains to be seen whether these measures really can force al-Assad from power.