MENA Brief newsletter 24 - 30 May 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses the recent political events in Israel, the escalation of violence in Libya, as well as the emergency Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia.

Middle East
  • Regional - Events marking International Quds Day set to cause disruptions
  • Egypt - Further clashes expected between residents and security forces in Luxor
  • Israel - Large anti-government demonstrations continue in Tel Aviv
  • Israel - Snap elections called for September, increasing protest risk
  • Israel - Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community demonstrate against military draft bill
  • Saudi Arabia - Emergency Arab League summit in Mecca heightens security, travel risks
North Africa
  • Libya - International hotel in capital struck by rockets

Middle East Regional Events marking International Quds Day set to cause disruptions 

Events commemorating International Quds Day are set to take place tomorrow (31 May) across the region. The day was first commemorated by Iran in 1979, to show support for the Palestinian people and oppose Israel. International Quds Day has become an annual event across the region, especially in countries with large Shia Muslim populations, including Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Turkey, Iraq and Bahrain. It is held on the last Friday of Ramadan. 

Why it matters: Protests are set to be well attended this year, partly due to a US-led controversial conference being held in Bahrain on 25-26 June, promoting investment in areas of the occupied Palestinian Territories. International Quds Day is also taking place amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran. A2 Global advises individuals in countries where protests are set to occur to avoid these as a precaution. Demonstrations are likely to take place in main squares in various cities, such as Taksim Square in Istanbul and Azadi Square in Tehran. Business travellers should also allow for additional journey time due to traffic disruption caused by demonstrations. Anti-American and anti-Israeli protests are likely outside US embassies and consulates across the region. Premises in close proximity to US embassies and consulates should review security arrangements, while business staff should minimise travel near US diplomatic buildings. 

Egypt � Further clashes expected between residents and security forces in Luxor Egypt  Travel risk: Extreme 

Local residents and security forces engaged in violent clashes on 28 May, in the city Luxor, 658km south of the capital Cairo. The fighting occurred during demonstrations that were incited after reports emerged that residents were forcibly being evicted from a housing complex on Mabad Al Karnak road, in the north of the city, to make way for a highway construction project. 

Why it matters: According to media reports, security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators, injuring several. There is a strong possibility that further violent confrontations between protesters and police will occur in the 48-hour outlook. A heightened security presence is expected, with the deployment of armoured vehicles and the potential use of tear gas and live ammunition to disperse protesters. A2 Global advises travellers to maintain an elevated security posture in Luxor and heed the advice of security officials.

Israel Large anti-government demonstrations continue in Tel Aviv Israel Travel risk: Medium 

Large demonstrations occurred in Tel Aviv on 28 May, after the National Union of Israeli Students and academics unions began a strike on 27 May until 29 May. This was in protest of laws proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would allow him and former members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to avoid prosecution on possible corruption charges. 

Why it matters: On 25 May, 100,000 people, including opposition leaders, gathered in Tel Aviv to protest against Netanyahu's proposed immunity bill. Netanyahu is alleged to have accepted gifts for granting tax breaks and visas, and to have sought favourable media coverage in return for regulatory decisions benefiting certain media companies. Demonstrators gathered at Rabin Square, in the centre of the city. 

Israel Snap elections called for September, increasing protest risk Israel  Travel risk: Medium 

The Knesset legislature yesterday (29 May) voted to dissolve parliament and call for snap elections, set for 17 September. This comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a new government, despite winning re-election on 9 April. Netanyahu was unable to secure the support of Avigdor Liberman, leader of the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, and a former defence minister. Liberman refused to support a bill that would allow ultra-Orthodox Jewish men continued exception from military service. 

Why it matters: Netanyahu is facing possible corruption charges, with a court date set for the beginning of October. The prime minister has attempted to introduce laws that would exempt him from prosecution, which has been met with large-scale demonstrations. Protests against Netanyahu are likely to occur in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in light of the announcement of new elections. With election campaigns set to begin again, there is a heightened risk of violence at rallies, due to the polarised nature of Israeli politics. Business travellers and logistics operators should monitor rally announcements from political parties and civil society organisations, and reschedule travel accordingly. 

Israel Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community demonstrate against military draft bill Israel  Travel risk: Medium 

Members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community protested in Jerusalem on 29 May, after Avigdor Liberman, the leader of the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, stated that he will not be supporting a bill that would allow Orthodox Jewish men continued exception from military service. 

Why it matters: Military service is mandatory for all citizens (except for Arab citizens) over the age of 18. But ultra-Orthodox parties have secured exemptions for students of traditional religious texts and blocked attempts to amend the law. Previous protests against similar draft laws have caused travel disruptions. Last week, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked main roads in Jerusalem during rush hour and were involved in scuffles with police. Protests should be expected in the ultra-Orthodox areas in Jerusalem, and the city of Bnei Brak, and near Israel Defense Forces recruitment centres. A2 Global advises travellers to maintain an elevated security posture in Jerusalem and heed the advice of security officials

Saudi Arabia Emergency Arab League summit in Mecca heightens security risks Saudi Arabia  Travel risk: High 

An emergency Arab League summit is taking place from 30 May until 1 June, in the holy city of Mecca, 867km west of the capital Riyadh. This was called by King Salman on 20 May. 

Why it matters: The emergency summit has been called due to heightened military tensions in the region over the past three weeks. Saudi Arabia has increased its number of airstrikes in Yemen, after Houthi rebel forces conducted several drone strikes targeting Saudi oil pumping stations. In addition, recent tensions between Iran and the US have increased the threat of escalation resulting in an armed confrontation in the Persian Gulf. The event is set to bring a heightened travel risk in the holy city, due to the summit occurring during the last ten days of Ramadan. Millions of pilgrims are expected to attend the Great Mosque of Mecca, in the centre of the city, to observe the last ten days of the holy month, which contains one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar. Security forces and religious figures have warned pilgrims of possible travel restrictions for the duration of the summit, during which there will be an increased security presence. Severe travel disruption is expected. A2 Global advises travellers to allow for additional journey time in and around the city.  

North Africa  

Libya International hotel in capital struck by rockets Libya Stability risk: Extreme 

An international business hotel in the capital Tripoli was struck by rockets in the early hours of 24 May. According to the interior ministry of the UN-recognised Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, these were fired by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA). The Rixos Al Nasr Tripoli, part of the Turkish luxury hotel chain Rixos Hotels, is situated next to the Second Ring road in the south of the city, close to the city centre. No details of casualties have been reported, but all staff have been evacuated. According to media reports, the hotel had hosted a meeting of lawmakers opposed to Haftar. 

Why it matters: 

According to the World Health Organization, at least 510 people have been confirmed killed, and 2,476 injured, since Haftar advanced on Tripoli city on 4 April. Staff there should remain in secure accommodation and avoid travelling to the southern areas where fighting is more intense. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to the country, and for all British nationals there to leave immediately. Individuals should anticipate significant disruption to public and private health services. In light of the extreme security risks in the country, individuals with no essential need to remain should consider leaving the country.