MENA Brief newsletter 12-18 April 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses Egypt's referendum, mayoral elections in Turkey, Haftar's advancements in Libya, and the protests in Morocco and Algeria 

  Middle East

  • Bahrain - Heightened protest risk as 139 demonstrators convicted of terrorism
  • Egypt - Heightened protest risk during referendum on extending presidency
  • Israel - Railway strike causes severe delays across country
  • Turkey - Heightened protest risk as ruling party calls for rerun of Istanbul election
  • United Arab Emirates Airport maintenance work closes runway until end of May
North Africa
  • Algeria - Security forces deploy checkpoints to limit access to capital
  • Libya - Airstrikes in Tripoli residential areas as fighting intensifies
  • Morocco - Several strikes nationwide due to fuel-price increase
  • Tunisia - Protest planned in capital to demand the release of prisoners

Middle East


Bahrain  Heightened protest risk as 139 demonstrators convicted of terrorism Iran Security risk: Medium 

On 16 April, the country's high criminal court convicted 139 people on terrorism charges, and revoked the citizenship of all but one, in one of the biggest trials in the country. Most of those convicted were arrested during protests in 2017. These were in support of Shia cleric and politician Issa Ahmed Qassem, who was stripped of his citizenship for backing protesters during the 'Arab spring.' According to prosecutors, those convicted were trying to create the 'Bahraini Hezbollah', and forge links with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

Why it matters: Protests are still likely to occur across the country in light of the court decision, as tensions continue to grow between opposition groups and security forces. In the past, security forces have used heavy-handed tactics against protesters, including deploying tear gas and firing live ammunition. A2 Global advises travellers to exercise caution and avoid travelling to central districts in towns and cities where protesters are likely to gather, such as the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama. 

  Egypt  Heightened protest risk during referendum on extending presidency Egypt Security risk: High 

On 17 April, Egyptian authorities announced that the country will hold a nationwide referendum from 20 to 22 April to vote on constitutional amendments, passed by the Egyptian parliament on 16 April. If the referendum endorses this, it would allow President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to extend his term of office from four to six years, and the number of terms a president can remain in power from two to four terms. This would allow al-Sisi to remain in power until 2034, should he win successive elections. The amendments would also give the president the power to directly appoint judges and bypass judiciary oversight. 

Why it matters:

Although protests have been banned since 2013, demonstrations against the referendum are likely, as opposition groups have accused al-Sisi of trying to strengthen the power of the military via the constitutional amendments. On 28 May, protests occurred during preliminary votes on the constitutional reforms, leading to several arrests. Despite opposition calls for a boycott, millions of Egyptians are set to vote, causing travel disruption across the country. Heightened security is expected, especially near polling stations. A2 Global advises foreign personnel to avoid protests as a precaution, due to the likelihood of confrontations between protesters and security forces.

Israel  Railway strike causes severe delays across country Israel  Travel risk:Medium 
State-owned Israel Railways faced large scale delays on 12 April across the country as trains were completely halted after several rail traffic managers failed to show up for work. 

Why it matters: 

Israeli media has reported the incident to be part of a strike conducted by rail traffic managers as an act of protest against the organisation. In March, similar strike actions occurred as a protest against poor working conditions. Issues between railway workers and management staff remain unresolved, increasing the risk of such incidents happening again. A2 Global advises business travellers to expect delays on their travels across the country, as railway operations are set to face delays through the day until operations resume normally. 

Turkey  Heightened protest risk as ruling party calls for rerun for Istanbul election Turkey  Political risk: High 

On 17 April, the ruling AK party (AKP) has formally requested the supreme election council, YSK, for a rerun of the 31 March Istanbul mayoral elections. The request comes after President Recep Tayyip Erdo?ans appeal for recount was rejected by YSK on 9 April. On the same day, the YSK confirmed that CHP's mayoral candidate Ekrem ?mamo?lu had won the election and granted him his official mandate despite the legal challenges imposed by the AKP. The YSK must now assess whether it will accept calls of a rerun by the AKP. If the request is approved, new elections are set to occur on 2 June. 

Why it matters:

If the request for a rerun is approved, the risk of protests by CHP supporters increases, as they are not likely to take the decision positively. A heightened security presence is expected across the city. If protests do occur, demonstrators are likely to gather in central locations, such as Taksim square. Business travellers should avoid any protests as a precaution. 

United Arab Emirates  Airport maintenance work closes runway until end of May  United Arab Emirates  Security risk: Medium' 

The southern runway at Dubai International Airport (DXB) will be closed from 1500 local time on 17 April until 30 May, due to essential maintenance work. The airport has two runways. 

Why it matters:

DXB is the world's busiest airport by international passenger traffic, and the maintenance work is set to cause some DXB flights to be diverted to Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), 65 km south of DXB. Free shuttle bus services will be running between the two airports. A2 Global advises travellers to re-confirm their flight status in case of cancellations and delays. Travellers to and from DXB should also allow for additional journey time.

  North Africa
Algeria Security forces deploy checkpoints to limit access to capital Algeria  Security risk: High 
Large anti-government demonstrations are set to occur in the capital Algiers on 19 April for the ninth consecutive Friday. Security forces have set up roadblocks last week along the A1 highway in Lakdharia, 80 km southeast of Algiers, as well as blocked access to the A1 from the city of Boura, 102km south-east of the capital. Checkpoints on the highway were also implemented in order to prevent protesters from joining demonstrations in the capital. The same is to occur once again, despite the resignation. Travellers arriving from the provincial capitals of Boumerd's and Tizi Ouzou have had their access to the city limited. 

Why it matters:
These extraordinary measures highlight security risks in the capital and the wider metropolitan area. In Algiers, security personnel were deployed in La Grande d'Alger square, Place Audin, and La Rue Didouche Mourad street in the centre of the capital, where protesters have usually gathered. Security personnel have recently deployed tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters, another sign of escalation and increased collateral risk to bystanders. Business travellers should avoid protests as a precaution, and allow for additional time when travelling to Algiers as well as within the city. Logistics operators should be aware of the potential delays in their operations, due to limited access to Algiers. 

Libya  Airstrikes in Tripoli residential areas as fighting intensifies Libya Security risk: Extreme 
According to media reports on 15 April, airstrikes took place in residential areas of the capital Tripoli. This comes as fighting intensifies between forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), and forces supporting the UN-recognised Tripoli-based Government of the National Accord (GNA). Eight ambulances were also hit, according to media reports. The airstrikes in the south of the city were conducted by LNA aircraft, said reports. At least 205 people have been killed and 931 injured in the fighting to date, which has also displaced 25,000 people. Haftar ordered his forces to advance on the city on 4 April, leading the GNA to announce a state of emergency. 

Why it matters: Airstrikes on residential areas marks an escalation of hostilities. Both sides have claimed the other is guilty for targeting civilians. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to the country and for all British nationals there to leave immediately. Business personnel should follow the advice of their embassy or consulate and make evacuation preparations in the event of further escalations. 

Morocco  Several strikes nationwide due to fuel-price increase Morocco Travel risk: Elevated 
An offshoot of the Hirak Rif popular mass-protest movement in the northern Rif region has called for mass protests in the capital Rabat on 21 April. The Thafra lil Wafae wa Attadamoun group called for demonstrations after an appeal by prisoners jailed during anti-government protests three years ago was rejected. Activists are demanding that all Hirak detainees are released. 

Why it matters:
The Hirak Rif movement held mass protests in the Amazigh region of Rif from October 2016 to June 2017. These were sparked by the death of a fish seller who was crushed inside a garbage truck while attempting to retrieve fish confiscated by local authorities. Over 150 people were put in jail in the protests. On 14 April, thousands protested in the town of El Hoceima, 290km west of the city of Tangier, to demand the release of all Hirak Rif prisoners. Protests in Rabat are set to be well attended, as civil society groups, including the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, have endorsed the action. A heightened security presence is expected, with the deployment of armoured vehicles and potential use of tear gas to disperse protesters. Travellers should allow for additional journey time and avoid any protests as a precaution. 

Tunisia  Protest planned in capital to demand the release of prisoners Tunisia Travel risk: Elevated

Taxi and minibus drivers are holding nationwide strikes on 15 April. The strikes were called by the UGTT union in protest against the government decision to increase fuel prices by four per cent. In addition, port workers conducted strikes at all Tunisian ports from 16 April until 18 April. This decision was taken after talks with the government over working conditions broke down. 

Why it matters:

Taxi and minibus drivers suspended services from Tunis-Carthage International Airport (TUN), serving the capital Tunis. Taxi and minibus drivers created roadblocks at the roads into several city entrances, including Tunis and Sousse, 147 km south of the capital. Protests are likely to continue in the 48-hour outlook. Business travellers should allow for additional journey time, due to the disruptions that the protests are set to cause. Logistics and facilities managers should factor the port workers strike into their operational plans.