MENA Brief newsletter 16-21 March 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses tensions in Israel & the Palestinian Territories, Nowruz celebrations, and the protests in Algeria & Tunisia. 

Middle East

  • Regional – Nowruz new year celebrations bring security, travel risks
  • Israel & Palestinian Territories – Jewish holiday prompts shutdown of borders
  • Israel & Palestinian Territories – Palestinian civil society call for protests
  • Iran & France – Mahan Air banned from France
  • Oman – Flight carrier cancels 34 more flights
  • Turkey – Clashes erupt after death of Kurdish activist in Diyarbakir 

North Africa

  • Algeria – Protests are set to continue across the country
  • Tunisia – Demonstrations organised across the country

Middle East

Regional – Nowruz new year celebrations bring security, travel risks 
Nowruz (Iranian New Year/Persian New Year) will be celebrated in various countries across the region in the 72-hour outlook. The event is marked by various groups, including Shia Muslims, Ismaili Shia Muslims, and the Kurdish diaspora. Nations where celebrations are being held include Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Six people were killed and others injured on 21 March in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack at a Shia shrine. This was during a celebratory gathering to mark Nowruz

Why it matters: The number of attacks by militants tend to spike during this holiday. Heightened security is expected at popular squares where celebrations are set to take place, as well as religious sites. Travel disruption is expected across the region due to the celebrations. A2 Global advises business travellers to allow for additional time due to the heightened security presence, as well as celebrations.

Israel & Palestinian Territories – Jewish holiday prompts shutdown of borders 
On 19 March the Israel Defense Forces announced the complete closure of the West Bank as well as sealing all crossing into Gaza due to the major Jewish holiday of Purim. The shutdown lasts from 20 March till 23 March.

Why it matters: The decision was likely to have been taken as a security measure after the death of two Israelis in the settlement of Ariel in the West Bank on 17 March. There will be a knock-on effect for West Bank businesses due to the stoppage of cross-border trade with Israel. A2 Global advises companies to factor-in the closures to travel and supply-chain movements as they will likely be accompanied by increased security operations. A2 Global advises business travellers in the West Bank to allow for additional time when reaching destinations for the duration of the closure.

Israel & Palestinian Territories – Palestinian civil society call for protests
Various Palestinian civil rights groups have announced a ‘day of rage’ on 22 March with protests planned across the Palestinian Territories. This was after four Palestinians were killed in the past 24 hours by Israeli security forces in the West Bank.

Why it matters: These events are set to fuel the already high tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. These have heightened in recent weeks, likely due to the lead up to parliamentary elections in Israel on 9 April. Protests are likely to be well-attended, especially after Friday prayers, as students are set to join mass protests across the West Bank and Jerusalem. A2 Global advises individuals to avoid all protests and not to travel to public squares in the area in the 48-hour outlook. This is  due to the likelihood of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators.

Iran & France – Mahan Air banned from France

Private Iranian carrier, Mahan Air, has been banned from operating in France, as of 1 April. Mahan Air, the nation’s second-largest carrier, flies up to four services a week between Tehran and Paris. The move, according to the airline’s office in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport (IKA), is due to sanctions by France. This likely follows U.S. sanctions against the airline.
Why it matters: The decision follows that of Germany, which revoked Mahan Air’s operating permit in January. It accused Mahan Air of using its aircraft for military work by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The airline was also banned by the U.S. in 2011, over its alleged links to the IRGC. The US Department of the Treasury has threatened sanctions against countries and companies which offer the airline landing rights. Individuals with bookings on Mahan Air flights that will likely be affected by the ban should make alternative travel arrangements.

Oman – Flight carrier cancels 34 more flights
Oman –Travel risk: Elevated

Oman Air, the national carrier, has cancelled 34 flights from 19 March until 22 March after the Public Authority for Civil Aviation suspended operations of Boeing 737 Max 8. The cancellation comes after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 in Ethiopia on 10 March, in which 157 people were killed.

Why it matters: The airline’s announcement comes after various nations decided to suspend use of the same Boeing model out of public safety concerns. Oman Air customers have been offered alternative flights in order to reach their destinations. Business travellers due to fly with the airline should reconfirm their flight status prior to travelling to the airport.

Turkey – Clashes erupt after death of Kurdish activist in Diyarbakir
Turkey – Security risk: High
On 18 March, violent clashes erupted between protestors and police in the city of Diyarbakir in south eastern Turkey, following the death of Zülküf Gezen, a Kurdish activist who was on hunger strike. He had been in prison for 12 years after he was convicted of membership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the E.U. and the U.S.. The protests were triggered in response to comments from the city’s public prosecutor’s office, which claimed that the activist committed suicide while in custody. Clashes erupted after Turkish police fired water cannon to break up protestors who gathered at his grave.

Why it matters: There is a strong possibility that further violent confrontations between protestors and police will break out in the 48-hour outlook. A2 Global advises business travellers to Diyarbakir to avoid any such protests as a precaution and follow instructions from local police.


North Africa

Algeria – Protests are set to continue across the country
Algeria – Security risk: High
Large-scale anti-government demonstrations are expected to occur in the 48-hour outlook in multiple cities across the country. Thousands of students are expected to protest as part of broader efforts to pressure on the Algerian government and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign after he announced his decision not to run for a fifth term in office in the now-cancelled 18 April elections.

Why it matters: Student union groups have expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of economic and employment opportunities they face upon graduating, as well as failure to end government corruption. Bouteflika is being held responsible for the lack of change. The decision to postpone the elections allows Bouteflika to hold onto power indefinitely which has amplified anger among protesters. A2 Global advises all travellers to avoid demonstrations as a precaution, particularly due to the risk of incidental exposure to clashes between protesters and security personal. Businesses should reassess all potential safety and security threats to their staff and assets.

Tunisia – Demonstrations organised across the country
Tunisia –Travel risk: Elevated
The Coalition for Women of Tunisia, and 65 other civil societies, staged a rally on 20 March across the capital Tunis. The demonstration has been called to protest against the country’s ailing health and education services. The rally is set to coincide with the country’s independence day.

Why it matters: The protest attracted a large number of people across the capital, with demonstrators likely inspired by anti-government protests in neighbouring Algeria. Protests could continue in the 48-hour outlook. If they do occur, disruption is expected through Tunis today, with the largest congestion expected on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, in the centre of the city.

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