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Syria Sanctions – no Adobe Flash for you

August 7, 2012

The Huffington Post had an article today, about how the British bank Standard Chartered helped Iran, over the course of six years, evade American and Western sanctions and hide $250 billion. One executive was quoted as saying; “You (expletive) Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians.”

$250 billion. And to think that when I was in Syria, I couldn’t even get any American web hosting company to sell me a $9.95 hosting package. This seems like a good time to list all the normally mundane and everyday things that are made much harder for Syrians, due to the sanctions on the country. Not that I am in any position to whine; I was one of the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated in Syria for those very sanctions. Be careful what you wish for…

Of course, the items in this list aren’t exactly soul-crushing or life threatening, but I’ve listed them to illustrate how sanctions can have effects that are not so obvious at first, the little things that don’t necessarily make the news.

  1. No credit card will work in Syria. In the past, Syrians would get credit cards issued from Lebanese banks via their branches in Syria, but in 2010 the Syrian government put a halt to all credit cards issued on a bank account in Syrian liras (they saw it as a way for people to bypass the Stalinist-like foreign currency controls). And since 2011, both Master Card and Visa have stopped accepting credit card transactions originating in Syria. e-Commerce and buying stuff off the Internet is not even remotely possible from inside Syria.
  2. No American webhosting company will allow anyone based in Syria to host a website with them. Some companies even go so far as to block Syrian web-surfers from viewing web-pages hosted on their servers.
  3. iTunes won’t even allow a customer in Syria from downloading even free apps, or update the software on their iPhones or iPads. In fact, Syrians arent even supposed to be allowed to own these devices.
  4. Even though Youtube has played a vital role in getting information on the events in Syria to the outside world, Adobe bans web-surfers inside Syria from even downloading their Flash plugin player, a piece of software without which viewing Youtube videos is impossible.
  5. VPNs are vital to bypassing the Assad regime’s restrictions on Internet access, but most VPN companies aren’t even allowed to offer their services to anyone based in Syria. And besides, how are Syrians supposed to pay for the services in the first place, since neither credit cards nor Paypal, the main payment methods of VPNs, even work in Syria.
  6. Try logging into a Paypal account from inside Syria. Go on, I dare you. You’ll be immediately put on Paypal’s permanent shitlist, your account closed, money confiscated, and bared from opening a new account even with a different credit card.
  7. Sourceforge, a popular website for free media players, text editors, and other seemingly harmless software, won’t allow anyone inside Syria to download any software hosted by them.
  8. Want to buy original Windows or MS-Office versions? Then head off to Lebanon or Jordan, it is ironically illegal to buy legal copies of Microsoft’s products in Syria.

These are just the problems a Syrian sitting at home will be subjected to. Of course, it’s very hard to calculate the total effects of sanctions on Syria over the years, due to lost foreign investment and Syria’s isolation from the world’s financial system. Too bad Syrians didn’t make friends at Standard Chartered.

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Categories: Syria
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