MENA Brief newsletter 10 - 16 May 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses the tensions between Iran and the United States, escalation of violence between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, as well as protests in Jordan and Lebanon. Middle East
  • Bahrain - Youth group calls for protests against US military presence
  • Iran & United States - Washington sanctions hit industrial metals exports
  • Israel - Eurovision Song Contest set to begin today amid unrest
  • Jordan - Anti-government protests occur in the capital
  • Lebanon - Further protests occur in capital
  • Palestinian Territories - Protest risk due to Nakba commemorations
  • Saudi Arabia & UAE - Two Saudi oil tankers damaged in sabotage attacks
  • Saudi Arabia & Yemen - Coalition strikes kill six people in Yemeni capital
North Africa
  • Libya - Government threatens to suspend foreign companies operations
  • Tunisia - Air traffic controllers postpone strike action

Middle East

Bahrain – Youth Group calls for protests against US military presence 
Bahrain – Travel risk: Medium
Protests against the presence of US military forces in Bahrain occurred in the capital Manama on 10 May. The February 14 Youth Coalition protest group called for protests and civil disobedience. Protesters gathered at the Pearl Roundabout (also known as the GCC Roundabout), and opposite the US embassy, on Shaikh Isa Bin Salman highway.

Why it matters: Security forces have used excessive force against protesters in the past, including tear gas. The protests caused traffic disruption in central Manama. A2 Global advises business travellers to monitor the situation closely, avoid protests if they continue as a precaution in the event of clashes, follow instructions from local authorities, and allow extra travel time.

Iran & United States – Washington sanctions hit industrial metals exports
The US government on 9 May imposed new sanctions on Iran, impacting its iron, steel, aluminium, and copper sectors.

Why it matters: Iran depends heavily on industrial metals exports. These amount to ten per cent of its export economy – Iran’s second-largest source of export revenue after petroleum. The decision by the US to introduce sanctions further deteriorates relations between the two countries. The new sanctions come after President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran will partly withdraw from the nuclear deal agreed in 2015 with the US, EU, France, UK, Germany, Russia, and China. The US unilaterally pulled out of the agreement in 2018. A2 Global advises businesses to update sanctions lists to reflect the US’s decision. Firms in the metals sectors should review their supply chains to ensure compliance with the new sanctions.

Israel – Eurovision Song Contest set to begin today amid unrest
Israel – Travel risk: Medium
The Eurovision Song Contest began on14 May, with the competition continuing until 18 May. Eurovision is being held at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, next to Tel Aviv University station, in the northern part of the city.

Why it matters: Last year the song contest was held in the Portuguese capital Lisbon, and attracted 30,000 spectators. This year the number is set to be lower, due to heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Territories following an escalation of violence on 4 May. In addition, protests are likely outside the venue by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists who oppose Israel hosting the contest, due to alleged human rights abuses. A2 Global advises business travellers to avoid protests as precaution and allow for additional time when travelling due to the increased number of people in the city for Eurovision and the heightened security presence.

Jordan – Anti-government protests occur in the capital 
Jordan – Travel risk: Medium
Protests occurred in the capital Amman on 16 May. Activists are demanding political and economic reforms as well as the ending of arrests of civil society activists. Protesters gathered in the Fourth Circle area, near the German embassy in the west of the city.

Why it matters: Similar protests have been occurring over the past two weeks and the likelihood of continuation is high, particularly as these events are garnering more public support from various opposition parties including The Partnership and Rescue Party. A heightened security presence is expected in the capital, with the deployment of armoured vehicles and potential use of tear gas to disperse protesters. A2 Global advises business personnel to avoid protest sites, due to the risk of confrontations between protesters and security forces. Business personnel should also allow for additional time when reaching destinations due to protest-related traffic disruption.

Lebanon – General strike by public sector workers 
Lebanon – Travel risk: High
Protests occurred in the capital Beirut on 15 May, after staff with the executive council of the national social security, an independent public institution that administers national insurance cover, announced they were striking over government austerity measures. Demonstrations occured opposite the government palace on Capuchins road, in the city centre.

Why it matters: The protests took place in the midst of ongoing protests by public sector workers and military veterans against the government’s austerity measures. Business travellers should avoid protests in the event they continue as a precaution and allow additional time for journeys, due to likely travel disruption.

Palestinian Territories – Protest risk due to Nakba commemorations
Palestinian Territories – Travel risk: Extreme
Multiple protests occurred on 15 May to commemorate what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba – the catastrophe. The Nakba marks the day in which over 750,000 Palestinians either fled or were expelled from their homes, during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The day also fell a day priot the first anniversary of the US moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Why it matters: Demonstrations were well attended in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Gaza city. Protests were disruptive, and met with aggression by Israel Defense Forces personnel, resulting in the injuries of more than 100 protestors. This presents a risk to life for those in the immediate vicinity. A2 Global advises individuals to avoid all protests and travel to public squares in these cities. They should also avoid travel around the border between the Gaza strip and Israel, as a precaution.

Saudi Arabia & UAE  – Two Saudi oil tankers damaged in sabotage attacks 
On 12 May, four commercial ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, were subjected to sabotage attacks near United Arab Emirates (UAE) territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the emirate of Fujairah. While the attacks did not result in any casualties or oil spillages, the Saudi vessels suffered structural damage.

Why it matters: The attacks come amid rising tensions in recent weeks between the US and Iran. On 10 May, the United States Maritime Administration, a government agency, warned that Iran could target merchant vessels, including oil tankers, in the Persian Gulf. Iran’s foreign ministry stated that the attack was ‘alarming and regrettable’. The UAE has not said who it believes was responsible. A2 Global advises businesses with interests in the region, especially international shipping companies, to monitor developments and factor these into their operational and contingency planning.

Saudi Arabia & Yemen – Coalition strikes kill six people in Yemeni capital
At least six civilians were killed on 16 May in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, when an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition hit the Rabat neighbourhood, a residential area in the west of the city.

Why it matters: The attack comes after Houthi forces claimed responsibility on 14 May for drone strikes on two oil pumping stations and a major pipeline in Saudi Arabia. These recent attacks are likely to further escalate the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Houthi rebels in Yemen, despite the initial signs of de-escalation after Houthi forces recently began withdrawing from the port city of Al Hodeidah, 148km east of Sana’a on 13 May. Businesses with interests and operations in the country should monitor developments and factor these into their operational and contingency planning. A2 Global warns that Yemen remains an extreme-risk destination and will continue to be so until a ceasefire and eventual political solution to the current conflict are reached.

North Africa

Libya – Government threatens to suspend foreign companies’ operations
Libya – Stability risk: Extreme
The UN-recognised Tripoli-based Government of the National Accord (GNA), has threatened to suspend the operations of 40 foreign companies in the country, including French oil multinational Total. The firms have three months to renew their operating licences, the economy and industry ministry said. The decision comes after the GNA accused foreign governments of not condemning the military offensive by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the self-proclaimed Libyan National army (LNA). At least 443 people have been killed during the recent escalation of violence.

Why it matters: If Tripoli does not renew licences, this would impact companies in the oil, telecommunications, and aerospace industries, among others. The Libyan economy is heavily reliant on oil exports, and this threat by the GNA displays its limited options in order to attain support against the LNA. The suspension of operations are likely to threaten revenues generated by the oil industry, as Total extracts more than one million barrels of oil per day in the country. A2 Global advises businesses to follow government announcements closely, factor in how developments will impact operations, and adjust supply chains accordingly.

Tunisia – Air traffic controllers postpone strike action
Tunisia –Travel risk: Elevated 
On 14 May, OACA, the air traffic controllers’ union announced the postponement of strikes planned for 17-18 May and 14-15 June. This follows meetings between the unions and civil aviation authorities. This dispute is over the implementation of a working conditions agreement.

Why it matters: The announcement de-escalates the strike risk in the one-month outlook. However, given Tunisia’s restricted financial situation, characterised by a budget deficit of close to 12 per cent, the government is unlikely to reach a satisfactory agreement which could in turn could spark renewed protests and strikes in the six-month outlook. A2 Global advises business travellers to monitor the situation in the event of new strike announcement.