The Desert's Dangers

Egypt is North Africa's largest economy. Despite this, there are multiple and severe security risks to international businesses operational in the country. A2 assesses the threats and advises mitigatory approaches below.


With the latest World Bank figures showing its GDP at over USD336 billion, Egypt is the most economically significant country in North Africa, and a central political player in the wider Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. Cairo has also implemented a number of structural changes to its economy, including the drawdown of its previously generous subsidy schemes, in order to increase international competitiveness and access IMF funds. Foreign businesses with a presence in Egypt range from major retail operators to telecommunications corporations. Egypt also has one of the most powerful military and security presences in the Mena region. The Egyptian armed forces receive approximately USD1.5 billion per annum in military assistance from the United States. The Egyptian air force has a number of modern aircraft, including the French-made Dassault Rafale multirole fighter, and the Egyptian navy is one of the largest in the world, with a substantial expeditionary capability. Domestically, the Egyptian national police are supported by the paramilitary Central Security Forces, an organisation which is over 450,000 strong. Overall, Egypt is one of the pre-eminent military actors within the Mena region, with a monolithic security apparatus well-experienced in the detection and neutralisation of militant forces. Nonetheless, A2 continues to assess the security risk in Egypt as HIGH. Multiple non-state armed groups (NSAGs) are present in the country, ranging from the Islamic State affiliate Islamic State Sinai Province (ISSP) in the northern Sinai region to the Hasm movement and other, smaller groups operational in Egypt's urban north, known as the Lower Nile. Meanwhile, although unrest towards the government is in most instances rapidly and effectively suppressed by the security forces, there is underlying discontent throughout Egypt, which could be retriggered with little difficulty. Below, A2 identifies the various security risks facing companies operating in Egypt, and suggests mitigatory approaches to manage risk within acceptable parameters.


Cairo and other urban areas

Egyptian urban areas within the Lower Nile, including the capital Cairo, are reasonably well-policed from a counter-terrorism perspective. Large numbers of uniformed security units are present throughout the country's cities, and checkpoints are common. Security forces have broad authority and little oversight when dealing with suspected militancy, and are proactive at responding to potential threats. Co-operation between Egyptian security forces and Western agencies with excellent SIGINT capability, such as the United States, further bolsters Egypt's own intelligence services. Nonetheless, despite extensive state-level security arrangements, NSAGs continue to operate in these areas. Of particular note is the Hasm movement, a new NSAG which first publicly claimed responsibility for an attack in July 2016 when it assassinated a senior prosecutor with a vehicle-borne IED. Hasm, which regards the current government as illegimate and champions a moderate form of Islamism, conducted multiple low-level operations over the subsequent year, primarily targeting members of the security forces for assassination. ISSP has also conducted a number of terror operations in urban zones, including an 11 July 2015 attack against the Italian embassy in Cairo. Other smaller Islamist groups, such as Lewaa al-Thawra, pose a less systemic threat to the state, but maintain the capability to launch small strikes against targets in Egypt 'urban areas. Primarily, NSAGs operating in Egypt's cities prioritise the targeting of state buildings and personnel. Direct attacks on foreign businesses are rare. However, terror operations will not take into account collateral damage against commercial premises or staff when assessing targets, and the ubiquitous presence of security forces throughout urban areas means that there is a significant risk that businesses will be indirectly affected by blasts. Furthermore, there have been a number of attacks in upscale suburbs in which large expatriate populations reside. For example, on 18 June 2017 Hasm remotely detonated an IED in the southern suburb of Maadi, killing several officers in a passing police vehicle.
There are some indications that violence is spreading southwards.
Attacks deliberately targeting tourists have also occurred in the city of Hurghada. On 14 July, an Egyptian national stabbed to death two German tourists, injuring several more, at the Zahabia hotel, situated on the coast. The attacker appears to have been inspired by ISSP, although the low-level capability suggests he had little-to-no practical support from the group. Regardless, this incident demonstrates that there is an extant risk in all Egyptian urban spaces, including in areas which have a less substantial security presence than Cairo. A2 recognises that it is not necessarily practical for site security managers of compounds in urban zones to fundamentally redesign their facilities to improve security. However, the installation of blast-resistant glass would be a proportionate measure that could dramatically improve compound security. With respect to staff residences, managers should ensure that security risk assessments are carried out on buildings before staff move in. Proportional security arrangements could include the erection of secure perimeters, the creation of panic rooms inside premises and the deployment of guards. Managers of personnel working in high-risk areas, such as aerospace or defence, should consider whether additional security measures are required. Read the full article