MENA Brief newsletter 19-25 April 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses Egypt's referendum, political tensions in Turkey, and the protests in Morocco and Tunisia

Middle East
  • Egypt - Referendum votes in favour of constitutional amendments
  • Turkey - Heightened tensions around Anzac Day events at Gallipoli
  • Turkey -Opposition leader attacked while attending funeral
  • Turkey & Armenia - Events to mark 104th anniversary of Armenian genocide
North Africa
  • Algeria - Business tycoons arrested in anti-corruption investigations
  • Morocco - Security forces deploy water cannon to disperse teachers
  • Tunisia - Protest in southern city against government failed promises
  • Tunisia - Railway workers stage two-day strike

Middle East


Egypt - Referendum votes in favour of constitutional amendments Egypt  Security risk: Extreme 

On 23 April, the national electoral commission announced that Egyptian voters had voted in favour of constitutional amendments in a referendum on 20-22 April. These amendments will allow President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to extend his term in office from four to six years, and run for four terms instead of two. These changes could see him remain president until 2034. The new measures also allow the president to directly appoint judges and bypass judiciary oversight. 

Why it matters: 

Only 44 per cent of eligible voters voted in the referendum, and opposition groups have accused al-Sisi's government of bribing voters. Demonstrations against these constitutional changes are likely in popular squares such as Tahrir Square, even though protests have been banned since 2013. Local opposition groups have accused al-Sisi of trying to strengthen the power of the military and using the judiciary to target opponents. A2 Global advises business travellers to avoid all protests as a precaution, as clashes between demonstrators and security forces would be likely. 

Turkey  Heightened tensions around Anzac Day events at Gallipoli Turkey  Travel risk: High 

Heightened security was present in the Gallipoli peninsula, in anakkale province, and in the commercial hub Istanbul, on 25 April. This is due to Anzac Day memorial services being conducted in Gallipoli, the scene of a First World War campaign in which Australia and New Zealand forces featured prominently. 

Why it matters: Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in both Australia and New Zealand honouring military personnel who lost their lives and served in conflicts. On 24 March, Turkish authorities arrested a suspected Islamic State member alleged to have planned an attack during memorial events. According to police reports, the foiled attack was in retribution for the 15 March gun attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 people were killed. An Australian citizen has been charged in connection with these attacks. Turkish nationals have been banned from the peninsula for the duration of memorial events, due to security concerns a move which is likely to anger Turkish nationalists. A2 Global advises Australian and New Zealand business travellers to practise heightened situational awareness, due to heightened anti-Australian and New Zealand sentiment. Business travellers should allow for additional journey time, due to a heightened security presence in areas around commemorative events.

Turkey  Opposition leader attacked while attending funeral Turkey  Security risk: High 

Nine people, including a member of the ruling AK Party, were arrested on 22 April in connection with an attack on Kemal Kl darolu, leader of the CHP, Turkey's main opposition party. K l daro lu was attending the funeral of a soldier in the ubuk district of the capital Ankara when he was attacked. The incident was recorded and shared on social media, sparking anger among CHP supporters, and leading to the creation of the hashtag #KilicdarogluYalnizDegildir (Kilicdaro?lu you are not alone). 

Why it matters: The political climate in the country has become increasingly polarised since mayoral elections last month. President Recep Tayyip Erdoan's AK Party lost the commercial hub Istanbul, Ankara, and the western coastal city of Izmir. Demonstrations are expected today in support of KI daro lu in these cities. Demonstrators are likely to gather opposite the CHP headquarters in Ankara, on Anadolu Boulevard in the west of the city. A2 Global advises travellers to avoid demonstrations as precaution and allow additional time when travelling. 

Turkey & Armenia  Events to mark 104th anniversary of Armenian genocide 

Several events are being staged in both countries on 24 April in order to commemorate the 104th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian diaspora is also holding events in the United States, France, and Lebanon. 

Why it matters: Historians claim that 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire  present-day Turkey  in the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish government denies this. In Armenia, events occurred throughout the country, with the largest at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide memorial complex in the capital Yerevan. All businesses and government buildings were closed for the day. In Turkey, human rights organisations held events at Sultanahmet Square and the i li Armenian Cemetery in the commercial hub Istanbul. Last year, riot police dispersed crowds attending similar events. A2 Global advises business travellers to avoid the gatherings as a precaution and allow for additional journey times during their travels.
North Africa
Algeria  Business tycoons arrested in anti-corruption investigations Algeria  Political risk:Elevated 

On 22 April, Algerian authorities detained five of the country's leading business people. This was as part of the government's anti-corruption investigations into individuals with links to the government of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Among those detained was Issad Rebrab, the chief executive officer of Groupe Cevital, the country's largest private conglomerate, employer, and non-energy exporting firm. Rebrab was arrested on suspicion of misrepresenting the movement of capital from and to abroad, overcharging, importing used equipment despite the granting of bank, tax and customs benefits. Groupe Cevital's interests include the agri-food sector, retail, industry, and services.   

Why it matters:

The arrests come after the army's chief of staff, Ahmed Gad Salah, announced last week that members of the business class in the gas and energy sectors would be prosecuted over alleged corruption. These arrests are set to bring risks to business personnel with links with those arrested, as this could lead to the closure of business operations. Business personnel should monitor the situation closely, assess how the arrests could affect their contracts, as well as consider potential reputational damage if partners are arrested on corruption charges. 

Morocco  Security forces deploy water cannon to disperse teachers Morocco Travel risk: Elevated 

On 24 April, anti-riot police used water cannon and batons to disperse thousands of teachers gathered in the capital Rabat to demand better salaries and working conditions. 

Why it matters: 

Teachers have been taking industrial action since March, including holding several nationwide strikes and blocking roads during demonstrations. Protests are likely to continue in the 48-hour outlook. A2 Global advises business travellers to monitor updates on local and international media, avoid protests as a precaution, and allow for additional travel time, due to expected traffic disruption. 

Tunisia Protest in southern city against government failed promises Tunisia Travel risk: Elevated 

On 23 April, a sit-in demonstration started at People's Square in the centre of the southern city of Tataouine, an important transit point for oil and gas companies. Protesters claim the government has failed to fulfil job and wealth distribution promises made in response to demonstrations in 2017. 

Why it matters: Protesters have stated that they are willing escalate the protests if the government fails to meet their demands. The military is already stationed in the city in order to protect oil facilities from potential attacks in neighbouring Libya, which heightens the risk of security forces employing heavy handed tactics against protests. Heightened security is set to impact transport, meaning business travellers should allow for additional journey time. Personnel should also avoid protests as a precaution. Companies should factor the potential risk of production disruption caused by an escalation of protests into their operational planning. 

Tunisia Railway workers stage two-day strike Tunisia Travel risk: Elevated 

Railway workers held nationwide strikes from 24-25 April. The strikes were called by the UGTT trade union in a dispute with the national rail operator SNCFT over wages and working conditions. 

Why it matters:

If the strikes continue, they are set to cause further travel disruption across the country, which has already faced strikes and protests by taxi and minibus drivers over fuel price increases A2 Global advises business travellers to expect widespread disruption of rail services, as well as consider either the use of alternative modes of transport or the postponing trips for the duration of the strikes.