SNAPSHOT: Travel risks at the Africa Cup of Nations

The Africa Cup of Nations men’s football tournament takes place in Egypt between 21 June and 19 July, against the backdrop of diverse security risks. These include: multiple terrorism actors, heightened protest risk, football hooliganism, and petty crime.

KEY POINTS

  • The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) men’s football tournament, featuring 24 national teams, kicks off at 2200 local time on 21 June, when hosts Egypt play Zimbabwe at the Cairo International Stadium. The final will take place at the same stadium on 19 July.
  • The event provides Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with an opportunity to exert soft power and promote the country throughout the continent and further afield.
  • AFCON takes place against a multitude of security risks for travellers. These include: multiple terrorism actors, heightened protest risk, football hooliganism, and petty crime.

ANALYSIS

Terrorism risk

  • As AFCON brings together a large number of people in a prestigious event for the government, there is a credible risk that groups will seek to attack events related to the tournament in order to undermine el-Sisi. These would most likely target security forces and fans – at stadiums, or venues screening games, such as hotels, restaurants, and cafes.
  • In and around the capital Cairo there have been a number of recent terrorist attacks on security forces and tourists. On 19 May, 16 people were injured when an improvised explosive device exploded next to a tourist bus at the Grand Egyptian Museum, in Giza, 6km south of Cairo. The government attributes many Cairo terrorist attacks to Hasm, an armed affiliate of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organisation.
  • The Islamic State – Sinai Province is largely active in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, where it routinely targets security personnel. While Egyptian military operations have degraded the group’s capability in recent years, it still poses a significant threat. On 5 June, eight police officers were killed in an Islamic State – Sinai Province attack on a checkpoint in northern Sinai.

Protest risk

  • The tournament takes place amid heightened domestic tensions, after former president Mohammed Morsi collapsed and died during a court appearance on 17 June. He had been in state custody since being ousted in a military coup in 2013. His death has drawn sharp criticism and condemnation from the Muslim Brotherhood, which accuses the government of assassinating Morsi.
  • Another threat actor closely linked to Morsi are the ‘ultras’ – organised football fans who have a reputation for hooliganism. Ultras played a major role in propelling Morsi to the presidency, and his death could be a motivating factor in inciting unrest and violence. The police have launched operations to prevent and suppress ultra activities ahead of games. Large ultra gatherings, however, will draw significant police attention, and any subsequent suppression operations will pose an incidental risk to anyone in the near vicinity.

Football hooligan risk

  • On 5 June, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) governing body controversially ordered a replay of the 31 May CAF Champions League final between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Esperance Tunis of Tunisia. The Tunisian side had been awarded the trophy after the second-leg match was abandoned when Wydad Casablanca walked off in protest at a disallowed goal. CAF’s decision to backtrack led to protests by Esperance Tunis fans as far away as France. Tunisia and Morocco – both of which have problems with football-related violence – are appearing in AFCON and fans are likely to bring this fixture’s enmity to the tournament. The CAF Champions League final replay is due to take place after AFCON.

Petty crime risk

  • The large crowds gathered to watch matches at stadiums, and venues including hotels, restaurants, and cafes, heightens the risk of petty crime, such as pickpocketing.

RESPONSE

  • Maintain high situational awareness at all times and report any suspicious activities to the authorities.
  • Keep any conspicuous signs of nationality and wealth discreet to avoid any unwanted attention.
  • In crowded areas, identify potential exit routes that can be used in the case of an emergency.
  • Leave the vicinity of any nearby protests immediately, as the authorities will likely respond with extreme force.
  • Follow the instructions of the authorities.
  • Do not take any photographs of police and other security forces personnel, equipment or installations, as this is prohibited.
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