Travel security in the Middle East and North Africa
What new security concerns now exist for international businesses amid the current political unrest in the Middle East and North African? What can organizations do to minimize risk?
By Joan Goodchild , Senior Editor
March 10, 2011 — CSO —
Many of us watch the events in the Middle East and North Africa unfold from afar. But for businesses with operations in these global regions of political unrest, protests, rebel uprising and deteriorating security often force difficult and immediate decisions for the sake of keeping employees out of harm's way.
Faysal Itani, Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa Forecasting at London-based Exclusive Analysis, an intelligence company that predicts commercially-relevant political and violent risks worldwide, explains how the security environment varies widely throughout the region, and what foreigners who travel or live in at-risk countries must keep in mind for safety.
CSO: How much of an impact have the events in the Middle East in recent weeks had on the commercial operations of your clients?
Faysal Itani: I has depended on particular geography. In Libya, there has been a significant impact, but in places like Egypt, not really. In Yemen, the security environment has not deteriorated significantly. There have been a number of cancellations of travels to Bahrain. So, this is some of the activity we are hearing a lot of concern about among clients.
There are travel advisories for all of the countries that you just mentioned, but you indicate that in Egypt there has not been a lot of commercial impact. Why not? Contrast what is happening in Egypt with the situation in Libya.
The key point is whether or not there is a state collapse in the country; whether the institutions, including the bureaucracies, the ministries, and armed forces especially, are still functioning or are fragmented and essentially nonexistent.
In Egypt, what happened was a series of protests that pressured the military, which has always been in control of Egypt anyway, for about 60 years, to get rid of the president and the small elite that surrounded him. But while it was a regime change, it wasn't the collapse of the state, the armed forces didn't fragment, and, in fact, the state is still very much intact and in control of security. They have had some problems with the police, which has been somewhat weak and demoralized. But the general security situation is fine, really. There are sporadic incidents of violent unrest — some of which are political, some of which are just opportunistic, or theft-related and economic.
In Libya, really this state is Moammar Gadhafi. Therefore, when his political survival is in peril, the entire government apparatus falls apart. The security forces fragment and, indeed, they are fighting each other right now. So you're looking at really problems that are of the opposite sides of the extreme in Egypt and Libya. Most countries we are hearing about are somewhere in between.