MENA Brief newsletter 5-11 April 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses Netanyahu's presidential win, floods in Iran, Haftar's advancements in Libya, and the protests in Algeria

Middle East
  • Egypt -Two people killed in SVIED attack on security personnel in Cairo
  • Iran & United States - Washington classifies Iranian military force as terrorists
  • Iran - Evacuations as floods continue to hit south-western province
  • Israel - Netanyahu wins another term in office
  • Turkey - Protest risk growing in capital after electoral body rejects president's recount demands
  • Saudi Arabia - US-Saudi dual nationals reportedly held for human rights activism
North Africa
  • Algeria - Protests set to continue as presidential election for 4 July
  • Libya - Foreign companies evacuate staff as fighting intensifies near Tripoli
  • Tunisia - State of emergency extended for another month

Middle East 

Egypt - Two people killed in SVIED attack on security personnel in Cairo
Egypt - Security risk: High
 Seven people, including four police officers and a six-year-old child were killed on 9 April after a 15-year old detonated his suicide vest improvised explosive device (SVIED) in a market in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid. Islamic State in Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the attack In a separate attack on 7 April, also in the capital Cairo, a police officer and a civilian police driver were killed when gunmen opened fire on their police patrol minibus in the eastern New Nozha district. Two police officers travelling in the vehicle were injured. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Why it matters:The threat of attacks by Islamist militant groups against security personnel in urban centres remains high in Egypt. A2 Global advises extreme precaution when travelling around the country, especially in the cities of Cairo, Giza and Alexandria. Business personnel should employ vetted local drivers and avoid travelling in close proximity to security forces vehicles, as these are most likely to be targeted by militants.

Iran & United States - Washington classifies Iranian military force as terrorists On 8 April, the US government designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation. The IRGC has over 125,000 military personnel and exerts a strong influence on Iran's politics and economy, as well as in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that businesses and banks have one week to cut ties with the IRGC or face US sanctions. The decision freezes any assets the IRGC has in the US, and bans US nationals from making transactions with the group. In response, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today (9 April) announced that the US was a state sponsor of terrorism.
Why it matters:This is the first time the US has named the military of another country a terrorist organisation, and highlights a further escalation in tensions between the two countries, after the US re-imposed sanctions on Iran in November 2018. The IRGC has economic interests in areas including the oil and gas sector, infrastructure, and telecommunications. International firms with operations in Iran should review their exposure to IRGC operations through thorough due diligence of companies with which they have dealings, and adjust operational and strategic plans accordingly.

Iran - Evacuations as floods continue to hit south-western province

Iran- Security risk: Elevated The Iranian government has ordered the evacuation of many towns and villages in the south-western province of Khuzestan. The evacuation in the oil-producing region was called after a major dam on the Karkheh River overflowed, following heavy rain on 8 April. Hospital patients were evacuated due to flooding in the provincial capital Ahvaz. According to state media, a total of 210 villages have been evacuated; 61 of these were reported to be completely flooded. Protests have occurred across the country against the government's response to the flooding which has left at least 70 people dead. Protesters claim thousands of people evacuated due to flooding were left without adequate services and provisions.
Why it matters:Heavy rain is set to continue in the 48-hour outlook, adding to the existing widespread flooding. Personnel should monitor local weather reports, avoid low-lying areas, and follow instructions from authorities. Poor conditions raise the risk of cholera, which flourishes in insanitary conditions.

Israel - Netanyahu wins another term in office
Israel - Travel risk:Medium Benjamin Netanyahu is set to become Israeli prime minister for a fifth time after his main rival, Benny Gantz, conceded on 11 April that he had lost the election. Netanyahu is set to form a right-wing governing coalition after a tight race were both his Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White party, both claimed 35 seats each in the 120-house, Knesset.
Why it matters:The elections occurred during heightened political tensions. Netanyahu has been indicted on corruption charges, while the supreme court has banned Netanyahu ally Michael Ben-Ari, a member of Jewish Power, a far-right ultranationalist party, from running, leading to protests by his supporters. There are also mounting cross-border tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, in particular after Netanyahu on 6 April pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the Palestinian Territories if he won the election.

Turkey - Protest risk growing in capital after electoral body rejects president's recount demands

Turkey  Political risk: High Turkey's supreme electoral council, YSK, on 9 April rejected a demand by President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an for a full recount of votes cast in the Istanbul mayoral electionon 31 March. Erdoan claims there were polling irregularities in the win by the opposition CHP candidate, Ekrem mamolu. The deputy chairman of the ruling AKP party, Ali Ihsan Yavuz, later said that the YSK had rejected Erdo an s demand.
Why it matters:The loss of Istanbul is a major political setback for Erdo an, having also lost the capital Ankara and western coastal city Azmir. Protests are likely to occur in Istanbul if the stand-off between mamolu and the AKP continues. AKP and CHP supporters may also target the YSK. 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, and the YSK headquarters on Refik Saydam street, near the Kas?mpa?a stadium. Business travellers should avoid any protests as a precaution.

Saudi Arabia - US-Saudi dual nationals reportedly held for human rights activism
Saudi Arabia - Travel risk: High According to media reports on 5 April, eight human rights activists, including two dual US-Saudi nationals have been arrested in over the past week. While not high-profile figures, media reports said they shared support for jailed women's rights activists and posted criticism of crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman online.
Why it matters:A2 Global advises business travellers to practise cultural awareness when posting online and not publicly express opinions about the country likely to be deemed controversial.

North Africa

Algeria - Protests set to continue as army chief says president is too ill for office

Algeria - Security risk: High Security forces fired tear gas and used water cannon against anti-government protesters 9 March in the capital, Algiers. This was the first time since mass protests started on 22 February that security forces have deployed these measures to disperse demonstrators. Students had gathered opposite the central post office, and had intended to march to Place Maurice Audin, in the centre of the city, when police blocked their route. They were demonstrating against the appointment of Abdelkader Bensaleh as interim president earlier in the day. Twelve labour unions, including the CNAPEST teachers union, were also holding a general strike on 10 April. Interim president Abdelkader Bensalah announced on 10 April that presidential elections will be held on 4 July.
Why it matters: Mass protests against the government have been ongoing since 17 February, and forced Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign as president after 20 years in power. Demonstrators have adopted the slogan remove them all, signalling a rejection of the current political system. Specifically, they have called for the removal of the 3Bs These are: Abdelkader Bensalah, a close Bouteflika ally who is due to become interim president; Tayeb Belaiz, chairman of the constitutional council that regulates elections; and Noureddine Bedoui, the current prime minister. Bensalah is not eligible to run in the upcoming elections, which will be overseen by the military. The election announcement is unlikely to fully appease protesters who fear the continuation of thestatus quo. Large protests are most likely to occur on 12 April, after Friday prayer. In the capital Algiers, protesters are likely to gather at the Martyrs Memorial, next to Khelifa Oulmane Boulevard. Business travellers should avoid protests as a precaution and allow for additional time for journeys, due to travel disruption the protests are likely to cause in the capital.

Libya - Teachers begin three day strike

Libya - Security risk: Extreme At least 56 people have been killed and hundreds injured during fighting between forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), and forces supporting the UN-backed recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), in the town of Al-Aziziyah, 10km west of the capital Tripoli. A state of emergency was announced in Tripoli on 4 April, after Haftar ordered the LNA to advance on the city. Meanwhile, civil aviation authorities on 9 April confirmed that operations at Mitiga International Airport (MJI), the capital Tripoli's only functioning airport, have resumed, but only for night flights. Operations at MJI were halted on 8 April,after an airstrike by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-proclaimed Libyan National army (LNA), during its advance on Tripoli. MJI is 8km east of Tripoli city centre.
Why it matters: On 7 April, non-essential UN-personnel and staff employed by multinational companies began evacuating, in response to the heightened security risk. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to the country and for all British nationals there to leave immediately. Security managers should monitor the situation and review current protocols, including evacuation plans, to factor in an escalation of hostilities.

Tunisia - State of emergency extended for another month
Travel risk: - 
President Beji Caid Essebsi has announced on 9 April that the country will extended the ongoing state of emergency for another month, until 6 May.
Why it matters:The state of emergency was first imposed on 24 November 2015, after a improvised explosive device (IED) attack by Islamist militants against a bus of presidential guard personnel in central Tunis killed 12 people. The extension of the state of emergency means that restrictions on travel and civil rights will continue. The decision also comes in the midst of anti-government demonstrations against its decision to increase fuel prices in order to tackle the budget deficit. A2 Global advises business travellers to seek authorisation from local security forces before embarking on journeys and to maintain heightened situational awareness around tourist sites, which are targets for Islamist militants. Travellers should avoid protests as a precaution and allow additional time for journeys.