MENA BRIEF NEWSLETTER 7 – 13 JUNE 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses the recent security risks in the Gulf, escalation in violence between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, as well protests in Algeria. 

Middle East

  • Egypt â€“ Land clashes on island north of capital heightened security risk 
  • Oman â€“ Two oil tankers evacuated in Gulf of Oman after explosions
  • Saudi Arabia â€“ Houthi airstrike injure 26 people at south-western airport 
  • Turkey– Supporters of opposition Istanbul mayoral candidate hold rallies 

North Africa

  • Algeria â€“ Large student protests against interim preside
  • Libya â€“ Airport remains open despite second night of airstrikes 

Middle East


Egypt – Land clashes on island north of capital heightened security risk
Egypt– Travel risk: Extreme

Violent clashes occurred on 12 June between security forces and residents on al-Warraq Island, 9km north of the capital Cairo. Residents were protesting against real-estate developments on the island and the removal of informal settlements, after former prime minister Sharif Ismail declared the establishment of a new community on the island in June 2018.

Why it matters: The real-estate developments threatens the residency status of all those settled on the island. Protests are probable to continue in the one-week outlook, and a heightened security presence is likely as demonstrations have been banned in the country since 2013. Security forces are likely to deploy armoured vehicles and fire tear gas to disperse protesters. A2 Global advises travellers to maintain an elevated security posture in the vicinity and heed the advice of security officials.

Oman – Two oil tankers evacuated in Gulf of Oman after explosions 
Oman – Maritime risk: Elevated 
Two oil tankers were evacuated in the Gulf of Oman on 13 June , following several explosions. According to IRNA, the Iranian state news agency, all 44 crew members were evacuated to an Iranian port. The Singapore-owned Kokuka Courageous and Norway-owned Front Altair sent distress signals that were picked up by the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. Ship operators said 21 crew members on the Kokuka Courageous and 23 on the Front Altair were evacuated. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Unverified reports said torpedoes or mines were involved.

Why it matters: The attacks come amid rising tensions in recent weeks between the US and Iran. Similar incidents occurred on 12 May when four commercial ships were allegedly sabotaged in the Gulf of Oman. Those attacks came a day after the United States Maritime Administration, a government agency, warned that Iran could target merchant vessels, including oil tankers, in the Persian Gulf. Iran has denied any involvement in both the 12 May attacks and today’s incidents. There is also a possibility that Houthi rebels in Yemen are responsible, after Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi on 19 May threatened Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates assets.

The Strait of Hormuz is crucial for global oil production as 35 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments – 20 per cent of oil traded worldwide – passes through there. Following today’s incidents, oil prices rose by three per cent. 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. Companies should also factor in the likelihood of further oil price rises if incidents continue.

Saudi Arabia – Houthi airstrikes injure 26 people at south-western airport
Saudi Arabia – Travel risk: High
At least 26 civilians were wounded, according to Saudi news sources, after Houthi rebels conducted an airstrike at 0221 local time on 12 June at Abha International Airport (AHB), serving the city of Abha in the south-western province of Asir. A Saudi military spokesman said a projectile – the type of which had still to be determined – fell on the airport’s arrivals hall in the terminal building.

Why it matters: This is the third attack by the Houthis in the past week, signaling an escalation of the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition forces and Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition forces are likely to retaliate with further airstrikes in Yemen, putting at risk civilians, especially in the capital Sana’a. The areas most at risk from drone strikes in Saudi Arabia are in the southern provinces of Asir, Jizan, and Najran. Areas further north, including the capital Riyadh, have also been targeted. A2 Global advises operations managers to ensure staff are drilled on how to respond to drone and missile attacks and have medical evacuation plans in place. Personnel should heed the advice and warnings of local security officials. Businesses with interests in the region should monitor developments and factor these into their operational and contingency planning.

Turkey – Supporters of opposition Istanbul mayoral candidate hold rallies 
Turkey – Travel risk: High
Further opposition rallies are expected to occur in the commercial capital Istanbul, after thousands of people filled Esenyurt square in the west of the city on 10 June, to hear an address by Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition CHP candidate in the forthcoming rerun of mayoral elections.

Why it matters: Ä°mamoğlu was declared the winner of the 31 March election, but this result was annulled by the country’s supreme electoral council, the YSK, following allegations by the ruling AK Party of irregularities. A rerun takes place on 23 June. Ä°mamoğlu supporters are likely to hold rallies in central locations, such as Taksim Square, and protest outside the YSK headquarters on Refik Saydam street, near the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Stadium, formerly known as the Kasımpaşa Stadium. Business travellers should avoid any protests as a precaution and allow for additional time during their journeys.

 

North Africa


Algeria – Presidential elections postponed
Algeria – Travel risk: High
Hundreds of thousands of students took part in mass anti-government protests in major cities  on 11 June. Demonstrations occured in the capital Algiers, Oran, 413km west of the capital, and Constantine, 392km east of Algiers.

Why it matters: Students protested for the 16th consecutive Tuesday, and the protests were be among the biggest since anti-government demonstrations started on 22 February. Organisers called on students to show their opposition to interim President Abdelkader Bensalah who l extended his time in office. In recent weeks, security forces have used heavy-handed tactics against protesters, such as deploying tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds, and arresting hundreds of demonstrators. This signifies escalating tensions, and brings increased collateral risk to bystanders. In the capital, potential gathering points for protesters include outside the Grande Poste, Place Audin, and La Rue Didouche Mourad, all in the city centre. Business travellers should avoid protests as a precaution, and allow for additional journey time in Algiers as protests are set to continue.

Libya – Airport remains open despite second night of airstrikes 
Libya – Travel risk: Extreme

The capital Tripoli’s only functioning airport, Mitiga International Airport (MJI), was targeted by airstrikes for the second consecutive night on 6 June. The airstrikes were conducted by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA). According to the LNA, the strikes were directed at the military section of MJI, which is located approximately 8km east of the city centre.

Why it matters: According to the World Health Organization, at least 600 people have been confirmed killed, and 2,855 injured, since Haftar advanced on Tripoli on 4 April. Normal flight operations have continued despite the airstrikes. Personnel in Tripoli should liaise with the relevant authorities to confirm the availability of flights.The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to the country and for all British nationals to leave immediately. Security managers should monitor the situation and review current protocols, including evacuation plans, to factor in an escalation of hostilities.