MENA Brief newsletter 31 May – 6 June 2019

The latest MENA Brief analyses the recent security situations in Iraq, protests in regards to Israel’s LGBTQ pride, as well as the controversy surrounding the African Champions League final. 

Middle East

  • Regional – Heightened terror risk for Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr
  • Egypt – Green Zone opens to public despite ongoing security concerns
  • Israel – Security concerns for LGBTQ pride march in Jerusalem
  • Palestinian Territories– Multiple Naksa day protests set to heighten travel risk

North Africa

  • Algeria – Presidential elections postponed
  • Morocco– Ecstasy seizure highlights risk from cross-strait drug smugglers
  • Tunisia– African Champions League final to be replayed after controversy
  • Tunisia –State of emergency extended for another month

Middle East

Regional  – Heightened terror risk for Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan, is set to begin on 4 or 5 June depending on the country or sect, due to the month being based on the lunar calendar and the sighting of a new moon. Many Muslim-majority countries have a three-day public holiday on the dates around Eid al-Fitr.

Why it matters: The threat from Islamist non-state armed groups tends to heighten during holiday periods. During Eid al-Fitr in 2018, the Islamic State militant group was responsbile for an improvised explosive device attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed 25 civilians and injured 51 others. This year the threat is escalated by the reappearance of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a video on 29 April – his first video appearance since 2014. With the loss of Islamic State’s territory in Iraq and Syria, al-Baghdadi used his pre-Ramadan address to urge followers worldwide to conduct terrorist attacks. Business travellers should factor this into their travel plans, and avoid very crowded areas in countries like Turkey, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Malaysia.

Operational managers working in Muslim-majority countries should expect commercial activity to effectively to be shut down over the Eid al-Fitr period. Managers in affected areas should ensure business-continuity plans are in place for essential operations.

A2 Global  also advises business travellers to expect severe travel disruption and road congestion during this time. Non-essential travel should be avoided, and where necessary, extra time should be allocated for journeys.

Iraq – Green Zone opens to public despite ongoing security concerns
Iraq – Security risk: Extreme

On 4 June, the Green Zone in the capital Baghdad, opened to the public for the first time since the US-led invasion in 2003. The heavily fortified zone is the centre of the international presence in the capital, including the US embassy. A military spokesman said the zone was now open 24 hours a day, and that 12,000 concrete walls had been removed.

Why it matters: Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said the Green Zone had been reopened due to his confidence in the security situation in the capital, a year after Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State global terrorist network. However, Mahdi’s security claims seem at odds with recent events and intelligence. On 15 May, the US Department of State ordered all non-emergency US government staff to immediately evacuate the country. It also advised US citizens against travel to Iraq, due to the risk of terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflicts. The US decision was likely made after it detected threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the region targeting American interests. On 19 May, a rocket exploded in the vicinity of the US embassy; no casualties were reported. Despite the re-opening of the Green Zone, business travellers are advised to remain vigilant, as the evacuation of all non-emergency US staff indicates that security concerns are still heightened in the city.

Israel – Security concerns for LGBTQ pride march in Jerusalem
Israel – Travel risk: Medium
At least 2,500 police officers were deployed in the city of Jerusalem ahead of the annual Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance on 6 June. Participants gathered at Liberty Bell Park, in the city centre, at 1600 local time and marched towards Independence Park on Gershon Agron street

Why it matters: Security forces already arrested two people on suspicion of planning to disrupt the annual LGBTQ event. Lehava, a Jewish far-right organisation that opposes LGBTQ rights, was given a permit by the authorities to stage a protest near the march. In 2015, an ultra-Orthodox extremist fatally stabbed one marcher and injured five others. He had been released from prison weeks earlier, having been jailed for stabbing three people at the 2005 parade.

Business travellers should anticipate severe travel delays and numerous road closures throughout central Jerusalem, as well as the risk of violence between police and groups protesting against the march.

Palestinian Territories – Multiple Naksa day protests set to heighten travel risk
Israel – Travel risk:
Extreme
5 June, marked the 52nd anniversary to what Palestinians refer to as the Naksa – the day of the setback. It commemorates the thousands of Palestinians who were displaced after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. As a result of the victory, Israel took control of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, which had been under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively.

Why it matters: The day was commemorated by protests in cities and areas across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, such as East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza city. Protests present a collateral safety and security risk to those in the near vicinity. During recent protests to commemorate the Nakba – the catastrophe, more than 100 Palestinian protestors were injured after Israeli security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protestors near the Gaza-Israeli border. Protests tend to be disruptive, and are often met with aggression by Israel Defense Forces personnel, resulting in clashes. A2 Global advises individuals to avoid all protests and travel to public squares in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the event of demonstrations continuing. They should also avoid travel around the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, as a precaution.

 

North Africa

Algeria – Presidential elections postponed
Algeria – Travel risk: High
On 2 June, the constitutional council announced that presidential elections scheduled for 4 July had  been postponed, after two candidates were disqualified. The council did not disclose why they were rejected. The council also announced that interim president Abdelkader Bensalah would remain as head of state until elections take place.

Why it matters: This will be viewed as something of a victory by demonstrators who had called for a boycott of the elections. However, protesters are still demanding the resignation of Bensalah, and other government figures linked to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned in April. In an ongoing series of protests, security forces have used heavy-handed tactics, such as deploying tear gas and water cannon, to disperse protesters, as well as arresting hundreds of demonstrators. Recently in the capital Algiers, security forces used batons against student protesters gathered opposite Algiers Central University, in order to prevent them from joining thousands of demonstrators at 4 rue hassiba ben bouali street, in the city centre. Business travellers should avoid protests as a precaution, and allow for additional journey time in Algiers.

Morocco – Ecstasy seizure highlights risk from cross-strait drug smugglers
Morocco – Security risk: Elevated 
Police at the major logistics hub of Tanger Med, on the Strait of Gibraltar, in the northern port city of Tangier, seized a record quantity of around half a million ecstasy tablets, according to media reports on 3 June. The haul of the psychoactive recreational drug – also known as MDMA – was discovered in the spare wheel of a Morocco-registered cargo truck originating from the port of Algeciras in southern Spain. In a related development, around 50,000 ecstasy tablets were seized in the north-eastern town of Guercif, in a taxi travelling from Tangier.

Why it matters: The country experiences a significant influx of cargo vehicles during the summer months, which makes it more difficult for police to conduct searches. This presents an opportunity for traffickers who often use drivers as drug mules, especially for drugs such as ecstasy, which are difficult to detect and can be transported in large quantities; seizures of the drug have significantly increased in recent years. This latest seizure highlights the heightened risk of cross-strait drug smuggling, especially in the summer season. A2 Global advises logistics companies to exercise thorough due diligence to mitigate the risk of their vehicles being compromised by illicit smuggling activities.

Tunisia –African Champions League final to be replayed after controversy 
Tunisia – Travel risk: Elevated
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced on 5 June that the CAF Champions League final match between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Esperance Tunis of Tunisia will be replayed, just five days after the Tunisian side was awarded the trophy following a controversial second-leg tie in the final. The match was abandoned after a goal by Wydad Casablanca was disallowed. Wydad Casablanca disagreed with the decision and players walked off the pitch, forfeiting the final. However, the match is now set to be hosted in South Africa after the CAF African Cup of Nations, which finishes on 19 July.

Why it matters: The decision is likely to lead to multiple protests by fans of Esperance Tunis. Protests occurred in Paris on 5 June, where CAF officials were meeting to discuss whether to replay the final. Esperance Tunis supporters are likely to protest in the capital opposite the Radès Olympic Stadium in the south of the city, and in the area of El Hafisa, where many of the club’s supporters live. A2 Global advises business travellers in the city to exercise heightened situational awareness and avoid areas where large numbers of football fans are gathered. Individuals in the city should also anticipate a heightened security presence.

Tunisia – State of emergency extended for another month 
Tunisia – Travel risk: Elevated
On 3 June, President Béji Caïd Essebsi announced a one-month extension of the ongoing countrywide state of emergency, which came into effect  on 5 June, over domestic and regional security concerns. The measure was first imposed on 24 November 2015, following an improvised explosive device (IED) attack by Islamist militants on a bus of presidential guard personnel in the capital Tunis, killing 12 people.

Why it matters: The extension of the state of emergency means that travel and civil rights restrictions, such as the right to assembly, are set to continue until at least 5 July.  A2 Global advises business travellers to seek authorisation from local security forces for any essential travel to remote areas and maintain heightened situational awareness around tourist sites that are targets for Islamist militants.

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