MENA Brief newsletter 1-7 March 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses tensions in Israel, strikes in Morocco as well as Iran and the protests in Algeria. 

Middle East

  • Iran – Ongoing teachers’ strike likely to bring protest risk
  • Israel – Prime minister faces corruption charges, heightening protest risk
  • Palestinian Territories & Israel – U.S.merging Jerusalem consulate, embassy
  • Saudi Arabia – Cabinet approves e-visas within 24 hours for foreign tourists
  • Turkey & Germany – Ankara warns that PKK supporters face arrest at airport

North Africa

  • Algeria – Thousands of students join anti-president protests
  • Algeria – Veterans and business group back anti-president protests
  • Morocco – Commercial disruption risk as truck drivers begin five-day strike

Middle East

Iran – Ongoing teachers’ strike likely to bring protest risk
Iran – Travel risk: Elevated
Teachers across the country have been holding nationwide strikes since 3 March, demanding the right to form unions, better salaries, and the freeing of jailed teachers’ rights activists. The strikes, organised by the CCTSI, an organisation that represents teachers, have also been supported by students across the country.

Why it matters: If the demands by the teachers are not met by the government, it is likely that demonstrations will occur, with the possibility of clashes between protesters and security forces. A2 Global advices business travellers to avoid all protests as a precaution.

Israel – Prime minister faces corruption charges, heightening protest risk
Israel – Travel risk: Medium
On 28 February, Israel’s attorney-general announced his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Why it matters: Netanyahu is alleged to have accepted gifts for granting tax breaks and visas, and to have sought favourable media coverage in return for regulatory decisions benefiting certain media companies. In response to the decision by the attorney-general, large protests calling for Netanyahu’s resignation and for him to end his re-election campaign in the upcoming 9 April elections occurred on 2 March. In December 2017, 20,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv to demonstrate against Netanyahu when the corruption allegations were first brought against the government. Demonstrations are likely to continue, and protesters are likely to gather at Rabin Square, a large public square in the centre of the city. The protests are likely to cause traffic disruptions across the city. A2 Global advises business travellers to allow for additional time when travelling and avoid protests as a precaution.

Palestinian Territories & Israel – U.S. merging Jerusalem consulate and embassy
The U.S. consulate in Jerusalem merged with the U.S. embassy on 4 March, in order to have one centre to deliver diplomatic services, the U.S. Department of State announced on 3 March.

Why it matters: The Jerusalem consulate had acted as the de facto embassy to the Palestinian Authority (PA) since the 1995 Oslo Accords. This will now be replaced by a new Palestinian affairs unit within the embassy. This follows the U.S. moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018. The latest decision is not likely to be well received by the PA, which will view this as a downgrade in its relationship with the Trump administration. Protests are likely to occur this weekend (9-10 March) across several cities in the occupied West Bank, including Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron. Demonstrations are also likely in East Jerusalem. A2 Global advises individuals to avoid protests, due to the likelihood of clashes between demonstrators and Israeli security personnel.

Saudi Arabia – Cabinet approves e-visas within 24 hours for foreign tourists
SAUDI ARABIA – Travel risk: High
Saudi Arabia’s cabinet approved new measures on 4 March, making it easier to obtain a tourist visa. The new measures will allow foreign visitors to acquire new electronic tourist visas to attend sporting events, concerts and business gatherings, 24 hours before travelling.

Why it matters: This is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which aims to make the country less reliant on oil and diversify its economy. The kingdom is trying to improve its image with tourists and investors, following international condemnation after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. Travel companies considering investment in the Saudi tourism market should conduct due diligence on any prospective Saudi partners and third parties. This will reduce the risk of links to individuals placed under sanctions by the U.S. government over the Khashoggi murder.

Turkey & Germany – Ankara warns that PKK supporters face at airport
Interior minister Suleyman Soylu announced yesterday (6 March) that Turkey would arrest any person the state deems ‘terrorists’ and ‘traitors’ upon arrival from Germany. The comments were aimed at supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is regarded as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the E.U and the U.S.

Why it matters: Germany has one of the largest Kurdish diasporas in the world, with members regularly holding rallies in support of the PKK and affiliated groups. Turkey considers many legal affiliated groups in Germany as terrorist organisations. A2 Global advises German citizens of Kurdish heritage who are intending to travel to Turkey to assess whether there is a possibility of facing arrest there, due to their political affiliations, or for attending rallies held by Kurdish groups.

North Africa

Algeria – Thousands of students join anti-president protests 
Algeria – Security risk: High
Thousands of students from universities across the country will continue protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fifth term in office, with demonstrations in the capital Algiers over the coming weekend (9-10).

Why it matters: Mass protests against Bouteflika’s candidacy in the presidential elections planned for 18 April have been ongoing since 17 February. Protests today are set to cause major travel disruptions across Algiers. While demonstrations have remained largely peaceful, there has been reports of clashes between demonstrators and security forces. A2 Global advises all travellers to avoid protests during the weekend as public demonstrations have been officially banned in the country since 2001. Business travellers should allow extra time for journeys across Algiers.

Algeria – Veterans and business group back anti-president protests
Algeria – Security risk: High
On 6 March, the National Organisation of Mujahideen, veterans who fought in the 1954-62 war of independence against France, and the vice-president of the Forums des d’Entreprises, which represents private companies, expressed support for nationwide demonstrations over the coming weekend (9-10 March) against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fifth term in the presidential elections planned for 18 April. Public demonstrations have been officially banned in the country since 2001.

Why it matters: The backing from these two powerful entities is likely to embolden protesters and increase the number of those involved over the weekend. Protests are expected to occur across all of Algeria’s 48 provinces and cause major travel disruption across the country. Business travellers should allow additional time for all journeys. Due to the likelihood of clashes between demonstrators and security forces, A2 Global advises personnel to avoid all protests.

Morocco – Commercial disruption risk as truck drivers begin five-day strike 
Morocco – Security risk: Elevated
Truck drivers, represented by the Union Marocaine du Travail, began a strike on 4 March, initially for five days. The strike is in protest at changes to regulatory controls.

Why it matters: The last time truck drivers went on strike was on November 2018, due to similar disputes. This led to shortages of fresh produce, which caused the price of fruit and vegetables to skyrocket. Truck drivers then also blocked roads leading to airports, including Mohammed V International Airport (CMN), which serves the city of Casablanca, and Tangier Ibn Battouta Airport (TNG), which serves Tangier.

A2 Global advises logistics firms to review delivery schedules and make contingency plans where possible. Business travellers should use alternative roads, as well as allowing for additional time when travelling, in order to minimise the risk of disruptions