MENA Brief newsletter 3 – 9 May 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses the Iran’s withdrawal from the Nuclear deal, Istanbul’s mayoral elections, and the protests in Algeria and Morocco. 

Middle East

  • Iran – Tehran announces partial withdrawal from nuclear deal
  • Israel – Independence day commemorations brings travel disruption
  • Israel & Palestinian Territories – Hamas agrees to truce
  • Jordan – Anti-government protests to take place in capital this evening
  • Lebanon– Violent confrontations during power line protest
  • Turkey – Anti-capitalist Muslim leader arrested at Istanbul gathering
  • Turkey – Protest risk following decision to rerun Istanbul mayoral election

North Africa

  • Algeria – Roads to capital blocked ahead of anti-government protest
  • Algeria – Students gather in capital as protests continue through Ramadan
  • Morocco – Doctors align with prisoners’ campaign, heightening protest risk

Middle East

Iran – Tehran announces partial withdrawal from nuclear deal
Iran – Political risk: High

On 8 May, President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran will partly withdraw from the nuclear deal agreed in 2015 with the US, EU, France, UK, Germany, Russia and China. The US unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018. Rouhani stated that Iran will resume its high-level uranium enrichment programme after 60 days unless other signatories adhere to the agreement.

Why it matters: The announcement comes after the US reimposed previous sanctions and imposed new ones over the past few months, impacting Iran’s oil exports and wider economy. In addition, the US listed the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation – the first time the US named the military of another country as terrorists. Rouhani’s announcement is set to further escalate tensions between the countries increasing the likelihood of additional US sanctions. Companies with interests in Iran should monitor the situation and ensure compliance with any additional sanctions.

Israel – Independence day commemorations brings travel disruption
Israel – Travel risk: Medium
Parades and other events took place in major cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This is due to Israel celebrating Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance day) on 7 May and Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence day) on 9 May.

Why it matters: This year’s celebrations are set against the backdrop of an escalation in violence between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, leading to a heightened security presence in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other cities. Government offices were closed during both days, as it is a public holiday. Road closures occurred in major cities, such as Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, as commemorative parades took place. All border crossings between Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are closed until 13 May, due to heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. A2 Global advises business travellers to allow for additional time due to travel disruptions and practise heightened situational awareness.

Israel and Palestinian Territories – Hamas agrees to truce
On 6 May, Hamas, the Sunni-Islamist governing authority in the Gaza Strip said it had agreed to a ceasefire with Israel, brokered by Egypt. While the Israeli government has not confirmed this, no missiles have been fired from the country into the Gaza Strip.

Why it matters: The recent escalation in violence, which began on 4 May, was the most severe since the 2014 Gaza-Israeli conflict. Militants in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel, prompting Israel to conduct airstrikes in Gaza. At least 25 Palestinians, including nine suspected militants, and four Israelis were killed during the recent exchanges. Despite the announcement of a ceasefire, tensions remain extremely high. A2 Global advises against all travel to Gaza and towns near the border with Gaza, in the Southern District of Israel.

Jordan – Protests against Bahrain due to comments by foreign minister
Jordan – Travel risk: Medium
Protesters gathered in the capital Amman on 9 May, with demonstrators demanding political and economic reform. Protesters gathered in the Fourth Circle area, near Jabal Amman hospital and the German embassy, at 1930 local time, where they held a street iftar, a meal to break the fast during Ramadan.

Why it matters: Protests at the Fourth Circle have been ongoing for over a week now, leading to endorsements by various opposition parties, including The Partnership and Rescue Party. Protests are likely to cause travel disruption in the surrounding area, and a heightened security presence is likely. A2 Global advises business personnel to avoid protest sites, due to the risk of confrontations between protesters and security forces. These have taken place during previous demonstrations, with police resorting to crowd dispersal techniques such as water cannon and batons to disperse protesters.

Lebanon – General strike by public sector workers 
Lebanon – Travel risk: High
Protests continued in the town of El Mansouria, 13km west of the capital Beirut, on 9 May following the announcement of a planned high-voltage power line project last week. Residents say the construction project will impact their homes.

Why it matters: Demonstrations broke out on 7 May and continued to 8 May, leading to violent clashes between protesters and security forces. Videos emerged on social media of a Catholic priest being beaten by security forces during demonstrations. On 9 May, security forces blocked access to the Paroisse Sainte Thérèse de l’enfant Jésus church, in the centre of the town. Anti-austerity demonstrations have been taking place in the capital since 1 May. At El Mansouria protesters have been chanting anti-government slogans, heightening the risk of anti-government protests spreading across the country. Business travellers should avoid protests as a precaution and allow additional time for journeys, due to likely travel disruption.

Turkey – Anti-capitalist Muslim leader arrested at Istanbul gathering 
Turkey – Travel risk: High
Demonstrations took place in the commercial capital Istanbul on 7 May after police arrested eight members of the Anti-capitalist Muslim group – self-proclaimed pious activists opposed to an Islamic bourgeoisie – including its leader İhsan Eliaçık. The group had held a street iftar, a meal to break the fast during Ramadan, in Taksim square in the centre of the city, in order to display opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling AK Party.

Why it matters: According to social media users, Eliaçık was beaten unconscious by police removing demonstrators from the area. The protests came a day after opposition groups staged protests in Istanbul to oppose the decision by the supreme electoral council to rerun the city’s mayoral election. Protests are likely to continue in the one-week outlook in Istanbul, with demonstrators likely to gather in central locations, such as Taksim square. Business travellers should avoid any protests as a precaution and allow for additional time when travelling due to the potential transport disruption.

Turkey – Protest risk following decision to rerun Istanbul mayoral election 
Turkey – Travel risk: High
Opposition protests occurred on 6 May in the Kadıköy district in the centre of commercial capital Istanbul, after the country’s supreme electoral council, the YSK, ordered the rerun of the city’s mayoral election.

Why it matters: The decision represents a U-turn by the YSK, as on 17 April it rejected a request by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a rerun. Erdoğan claimed there were polling irregularities in the win by opposition CHP candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu. The loss of Istanbul was seen as a major setback for President Erdoğan, having already lost the capital Ankara in the elections. The decision to sanction a rerun has been condemned by İmamoğlu and angered CHP supporters. Protests are expected to continue today, with demonstrators likely to gather in central locations, such as Taksim square, and outside the YSK headquarters on Refik Saydam street, near the Kasımpaşa stadium. Business travellers should avoid any protests as a precaution.

North Africa

Algeria – Roads to capital blocked ahead of anti-government protest
Algeria – Travel risk: High
Anti-government protests took place in the capital Algiers on 3 May for the eleventh consecutive Friday. Mass protests have been ongoing since 17 February, and forced former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign after 20 years in power. Protesters are demanding the replacement of the old political class.

Why it matters: Security forces deployed roadblocks in various locations in order to limit access to the capital, where most protests occur. The town of Buzegza Keddara, 63km east of Algiers, has had its access to the capital blocked. Checkpoints were also been set up along the N11 and N5 highways to prevent protesters joining demonstrations in the capital. The  protest was the last before the start of Ramadan on 5 May.

During Ramadan, protests are more likely to occur after sunset, when people come out to break their fast and attend prayers. Potential flashpoints today include outside the Grand Poste, Place Audin, and La Rue Didouche Mourad, all in the city centre. Security personnel have recently deployed tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters, asign of escalating tensions, and bringing increased collateral risk to bystanders. Business travellers should avoid protests as a precaution, and allow for additional time when travelling to Algiers and within the city. Logistics operators should be aware of potential delays to their operations, due to limited access to Algiers.

Algeria – Roads Students gather in capital as protests continue through Ramadan
Algeria – Travel risk: High
Thousands of students protested in the capital Algiers on 7 May, demanding the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, interim prime minister Noureddine Bedoui, and other government figures linked to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who stood down last month. Protesters are demanding the replacement of the old political class.

Why it matters: This was the first major protest since the start of Ramadan on 6 May, signaling that demonstrations are set to continue throughout the holy month. It was also the first since Algerian students announced last week that they will be holding anti-government protests across the country every Tuesday. In the capital, potential gathering points for protesters include outside the Grande Poste building, Place Audin, and La Rue Didouche Mourad, all in the city centre. Security services have recently deployed tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters, a sign of escalating tensions, and bringing increased collateral risk to bystanders. Business travellers should avoid protests as a precaution, and allow for additional journey time in Algiers.

Morocco – Doctors align with prisoners’ campaign, heightening protest risk
Morocco –Travel risk: Elevated 
Several doctor unions have been circulating letters among members calling for solidarity with prisoners convicted following anti-government protests in the northern region of Rif, between October 2016 and June 2017. A number of doctors are reported to have signed these letters in the past week. This comes as 1,000 doctors resigned in April, in protest over working conditions at public hospitals.

Why it matters: On 29 April, hundreds of doctors demonstrated in Rabat over working conditions. In addition, over the past week the Thafra lil Wafae wa Attadamoun group, an offshoot of the Hirak grassroots protest movement in the Rif region, has been staging protests in the capital, demanding the release of prisoners from the Rif protests. Further protests are likely to occur. Past gathering point has been opposite the headquarters of the Moroccan prison service, near Rue Al Jaouz in the city centre. A heightened security presence is expected, with the deployment of armoured vehicles and potential use of tear gas to disperse protesters. Travellers should allow for additional journey time and avoid any protest as a precaution.

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