The latest MENA Brief analyses Trump’s decision to acknowledge the annexation of the Golan Heights, Sisi’s potential presidential extensions, and the protests in Algeria
- Regional –U.S. officially recognises Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights
- Bahrain – Formula 1 event brings protest and travel risks
- Egypt – Vote to lengthen president’s time in office increases protest risk
- Israel & Palestinian Territories – Rocket strike from Gaza raises tensions
- Lebanon – Heightened protest risk as power plant closes due to fuel shortage
- Yemen– Seven killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrike on hospital
- Algeria – Army chief says president is too ill for office
- Morocco – Teachers begin three day strike
- Tunisia – Arab League summit in capital brings heightened travel, protest risk
- Tunisia – Air traffic controllers at capital airport set to strike
Regional – U.S. officially recognises Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights
U.S. President Donald Trump officially recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights on 25 March. The territory was occupied by Israel during the Six-Day war in 1967, and was later annexed. The U.N. considers the area Syrian territory occupied by Israel. Trump’s move was condemned by Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, which warned that this would affect regional security and stability. The decision was also condemned by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said this would cause a new crisis in the region.
Why it matters: Anti-American and anti-Israeli protests are likely outside U.S. embassies and consulates across the region today. Premises in close proximity to U.S. embassies and consulates should review security arrangements, while business staff should minimise travel near U.S. diplomatic buildings. . A2 Global advises individuals in impacted countries to avoid demonstrations as a precaution. Protests could occur in main squares in various cities, such as Taksim Square in Istanbul and Azadi Square in Tehran. Business travellers should also allow for additional journey time due to possible demonstrations . Protests by the indigenous Druze community – which has close ties to Syria – are set to take place on the Golan Heights. The Israeli army reportedly deployed anti-riot police and military personnel to the area. Business travellers intending to travel to northern Israel should also allow for additional time due to a heightened security presence, and avoid any protests.
Bahrain – Formula 1 event brings protest and travel risks
Bahrain– Travel risk: Medium
The Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix fixture takes place from 29 March until 31 March, in Sakhir, in the Southern Governorate. Practice sessions are being held 29 March, followed by qualification races on 30 March, and with the main race set to take place on 31 March.
Why it matters: Protest leaders have called for nationwide demonstrations against the race, due to alleged human rights abuses committed by the kingdom’s monarchy. A heightened security presence is expected for the duration of the event. Security forces have used excessive force against protesters in the past, including deploying tear gas. A2 Global advises foreign personnel to avoid all protests as a precaution. Business travellers should allow for additional time at Bahrain International Airport (BAH), as this will be busier than usual. The potential installation of security checkpoints on roads across the capital Manama and Sakhir is also likely to create traffic disruption. Business travellers should monitor the situation closely and follow instructions from the local authorities.
Egypt – Vote to lengthen president’s time in office increases protest risk
Egypt– Travel risk: Extreme
The house of representatives legislature is set to vote on 28 March on extending the presidential term from four to six years, and the number of terms a president can remain in power from two to four. The amendments could allow President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, pictured above, to remain in power – should he win successive elections – until 2034. The amendments would also give the president the power to directly appoint judges and bypass judiciary oversight.
Why it matters: An official request by opposition parties to hold demonstrations over these proposed changes was rejected by the court of appeal; protests have been banned since 2013. However, these constitutional amendments are still likely to lead to demonstrations outside the parliament building, on Magles Al Shaeb street, in the capital Cairo. Security in the capital is expected to be increased due to the likelihood of protests, causing traffic disruption. Protests are also likely to occur in cities such as Giza, 5km south-west of Cairo, and the Mediterranean port of Alexandria. A2 Global advises foreign personnel to avoid all protests and popular squares, such as Tahrir square in Cairo, due to the likelihood of confrontations between protesters and security forces.
Israel & Palestinian Territories – Rocket strike from Gaza raises tensions
A long-range rocket fired on 24 March from Gaza in the Palestinian Territories struck residential areas in Israel’s HaSharon region, north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven people.
Why it matters: The rocket travelled more than 80km from Gaza in order to hit HaSharon. It is extremely rare for rockets fired from Palestinian Territories to travel such a distance and not be detected by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system. This may indicate a heightened threat to Israel from Palestinian militants. In response, the Israeli army deployed tanks and troops along the border with Gaza, increasing security tensions. The likelihood of violence between Israel and the Palestinian Territories tends to increase during elections in Israel; legislative elections are set to be held on 9 April. A2 Global advises individuals against travelling to southern Israel and Gaza in the one-month outlook. Businesses – including those in areas that would not usually be within range of rocket strikes by militants – should review air raid procedures.
Lebanon – Heightened protest risk as power plant closes due to fuel shortage
Lebanon – Travel risk: High
The diesel-fuelled Deir Ammar power plant, in the north of the country, halted operations on 27 March due to a lack of fuel. This was partly due bad weather conditions affecting the transport of supplies. The power plant, alongside the Zahrani power station, in the south of the country, are responsible for half of the power generated by EDL, the state-owned electricity producer.
Why it matters: The shutdown will likely disrupt power supplies across Lebanon, adding to ongoing power shortages over the past few months. If the power shortages continue, protests could occur against the country’s inadequate and ageing power infrastructure, likely leading to confrontations with security forces. A2 Global advises business personnel to avoid all protests as a precaution. Businesses should monitor for updates on the power status, and factor in the likelihood of disruptions to operations.
Yemen – Seven killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrike on hospital
Yemen – Travel risk: Extreme
Seven people, including four children, were killed on 26 March when an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a petrol station near the entrance of a hospital supported by Save the Children, a U.K.-headquartered humanitarian organisation, in the rural area of Kitaf, 100 km north-west of the city of Saada.
Why it matters: Save the Children has staff at a number of hospitals in the country. NGO staff should be aware that hospitals have been targeted by both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels during the Yemeni civil war, which began in March 2015. NGOs should ensure that staff adhere to the advice of local security officials and private security providers. A2 Global warns that Yemen remains an extreme-risk destination and will continue to be so until a ceasefire and eventual political solution are reached.
Algeria – Protests set to continue as army chief says president is too ill for office
Algeria – Security risk: High
Algeria’s army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaïd Salah, announced on 26 March that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was unfit for office, due to illness, and called for the activation of Article 102 of the Algerian constitution. According to the constitution, the presidency becomes vacant if the sitting president is too ill for office. The leader of the upper house of the legislature, Abdelkader Bensalah, would become interim president for 45 days, until fresh elections are held. However, this interim period can be extended.
Why it matters: Salah’s statement is unlikely to appease protesters, who have been demonstrating since 17 February after Bouteflika announced his decision to run for a fifth term in office. Although Bouteflika withdrew his candidacy, he also postponed the elections, fuelling further protests against his continuing presidency and the government. As Bensalah is a senior member of the ruling coalition, he will likely be perceived by protesters as a continuation of the status quo. This will likely lead protesters to continue demonstrations. To date, protests have been largely peaceful, however, there has been a heightened security presence across various major cities. Business travellers should monitor local updates, avoid all protests as a precaution, and minimise non-essential travel.
Morocco – Teachers begin three day strike
Morocco –Travel risk: Elevated
Teachers across the country went on strike on 26 March until 28 March, as part of ongoing nationwide industrial action over contracts. The strikes have been called by the National Federation of Teachers and the Democratic Labour Organisation. Protests are also planned across the country, including in the capital Rabat, outside the ministry of education building on Avenue d’Alger, where most many government buildings are situated. Protests are likely to continue over 30-31 March.
Why it matters: During protests on 24 March, anti-riot police deployed batons and water cannon against protesters, after over 10,000 teachers and education workers gathered opposite parliament in Rabat. A heightened security presence is expected across the capital today. Should demonstrations be well-attended, which is almost certain, security forces will likely deploy armoured vehicles, water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters. Business personnel should avoid demonstrations. Business travellers should allow additional journey time due to traffic disruption caused by the protests.
Tunisia – Arab League summit in capital brings heightened travel, protest risk
Tunisia –Travel risk: Elevated
Arab League summit is taking place in the capital Tunis, from 26 March until 31 March.
Why it matters: A heightened security and military presence is expected around Conference Palace on Avenue Mohammed V, in the centre of the city. Protests are also likely to occur near the venue for the scheduled arrival of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, due to his alleged involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Travel disruption is expected, due to the increased security presence. Business travellers are advised to allow for additional journey time for the duration of the summit. Travellers should avoid any protests, as a precaution.
Tunisia – Air traffic controllers at capital airport set to strike
Tunisia –Travel risk: Elevated
Air traffic controllers at Tunis-Carthage International Airport (TUN) are set to hold a two-day strike starting on 29 March. The strike has been called by the OACA controllers’ union, a branch of the UGTT trade union federation, over the implementation of a working conditions agreement with the civil navigation authority.
Why it matters: The strike will cause major travel disruption, as TUN is the country’s international airport. This is likely to include cancelled and delayed flights and longer waiting times at check-in and airport security. In addition, the capital Tunis is hosting the Arab League summit until 31 March, causing further travel disruption across the city. A2 Global advises business travellers who intend to use TUN in the 72-hour outlook to re-confirm the status of their flights before setting out and allow additional time when travelling to the airport.