Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma, a Western-educated former banker, has been hit with an EU travel ban and asset freeze, along with several other members of Assad's family. The announcement comes a week after emails were leaked depicting Asma as a worldly shopaholic unaffected by the atrocities taking place in her country. While President Assad has been the target of EU sanctions since May 2011, his family has largely been spared. But some argue that the move against Asma and Co. is purely "symbolic," and won't make a difference in the deadly Syrian conflict — especially considering that as a British national, Asma can't be prevented from entering Britain. Are the sanctions a step in the right direction or a waste of time? Here's what you should know:
What exactly are the EU's orders?
Asma and President Assad's mother, sister, and sister-in-law have all been banned from traveling to the European Union, and all of the assets they hold in those countries have been frozen. Asma, however, is a British national and cannot be barred from entering London.
So... can Asma still pretty much do as she pleases?
Kind of. The asset freeze means she can't touch any of her U.K. or EU bank accounts and credit cards, theoretically cutting her off from shopping in Europe. However, because of intricacies in the U.K.'s rules, Asma will only be barred from buying "basic goods," and will still be able to shop for "luxury items" — an area in which Asma has demonstrated deft ability in the past, snapping up diamond and onyx necklaces, a Ming Luce vase, and $15,000 worth of candlesticks, tables, and chandeliers.
Was anyone else included in the sanctions?
The EU also imposed a ban on eight Syrian government ministers, and the assets of two Syrian companies were frozen.
Will it work?
No way, says Elliott Abrams at the Council on Foreign Relations. The sanctions merely demonstrate a lack of determination from international powers. They won't "deter or prevent more murders," or "help Syria's people defend themselves." Don't speak too soon, says British Foreign Secretary William Hague. At the very least, the new sanctions show a renewed "resolve to intensify the pressure, the economic, and diplomatic stranglehold on this regime."