Syrians see credit cards blocked under US sanctions

Visa and MasterCard block cards linked to Syrian bank accounts, may hit Gulf residents
Syrians see credit cards blocked under US sanctions
The move affects citizens with credit cards linked to Syrian bank accounts
By Elizabeth Broomhall
Tue 30 Aug 2011 09:34 AM

Syrians in the Gulf may
be barred from using their MasterCard and Visa credit cards under new US
sanctions targeting Damascus because of its bloody crackdown on an internal
uprising.

The move, which affects citizens with credit cards linked to
Syrian bank accounts, also means foreign tourists and companies will no longer
be able to use their credit cards in Syria.

Syrian nationals living in the UAE say they are worried
about the impact the clampdown will have on family and friends living in the protest-hit
country.

“I am worried the ban could affect my Syrian friends in the
UAE who have credit cards and bank accounts at home,” said one 26-year-old
Syrian expat. “Although credit cards are quite new in Syria, more people have
been using them in the last couple of years.”

Visa and MasterCard confirmed to Arabian Business that their
cards are no longer valid in Syria.

“Visa is required by law to comply with the US Department of
the Treasury financial sanctions against Syria,” a spokesperson said. “As a
result, Visa has suspended its payment card activity.”

MasterCard said it was bound by US governmental policies.

“MasterCard Worldwide, in response to an executive order
from the US Treasury Department, has instituted a block of all transactions
originating in Syria and… of all MasterCard transactions on accounts issued in
Syria.”

The ban, which came into effect last week, forms part of
sanctions aimed at pressuring the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and
ending its suppression of a five-month uprising.

National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said Monday
that more than 3,100 people have been killed in protests against Al-Assad since
the uprising began in mid-March.

Analysts said sanctions – though designed to pressure
Al-Assad to step down – are likely to hurt ordinary Syrians rather than the
regime, as the US already limits trade and economic ties with the Arab country.

 “The credit card
system is controlled within the Syrian states by people who are close to the
regime, so by implementing sanctions, they are trying to limit these people’s
abilities to profit from the use of credit cards,” said Theodore Karasik, a
security analyst at Dubai-based Inegma.

“However, it is not smart, because it is affecting a lot of
other people who are innocent, especially as we enter Eid. Businesses are going
to be tremendously hurt.”

Kuwait in May banned Syrian nationals from entering the
country over fears political unrest in the nation could pose a risk to the Gulf
state’s security. In Bahrain, anecdotal evidence suggests Syrians have
struggled to secure visas to enter the country in the wake of the kingdom’s own
political unrest.

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