The sudden closures of a number of Western embassies and the withdrawal of diplomatic staff in Middle Eastern and North African countries last week has put the operational dangers of working and travelling in the region into sharp focus.
Yesterday’s violence between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the security forces in Egypt and the Berber assault on the Libyan parliament are symptomatic of the fast changing dynamics and on-going regional instability. The combination of unfulfilled promises of change, socio-economic uncertainty and the rise of sectarianism point to continuing unrest and the possibility of further violence. As yet, few regional governments have been able to reconcile debates on collective and individual rights, the role of political Islam and the multiplicity of ideological and social divides.
Resolution in Egypt Could be a Long Way Off
The political stand-off between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s interim government continues with any working resolution remaining elusive. In spite of the long awaited police and military crack-down and dozens reported dead, pro-Morsi campaigners remain firmly behind their barricades with further clashes and demonstrations anticipated as the security operation continues.
Following the estrangement of western diplomats, Al Nour, the dominant Salafist organisation, has tabled a diplomatic solution offering the Muslim Brotherhood a legal mandate to sign over powers to a mutually acceptable prime minister. It still stands that the integration of political Islam is paramount to the success of the transitionary government.
The scope, extent and duration of protests suggests that a political solution in the short-to-medium term is unlikely. Worryingly, al-Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahri, urged the Muslim Brotherhood to permanently leave the political process in the pursuit of imposing Sharia law. Salafist-Jihadists may use this to provoke confrontation between the embattled protestors and security forces.
The Situation in Yemen
According to the U.S. State Department, the focal point provoking embassy closures and evacuations during Eid-al-Fitr celebrations was Yemen where the risk of attack was heightened by the precocious but thwarted attack at the Canadian-run Al-Dhaba terminal near Hadramawt and additionally the killing of five troops guarding the Balhaf LNG natural gas export terminal. The Yemeni authorities’ inability to contain the spectre of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula is clear and future attacks are possible.
The attack underscores the vulnerability of energy installations and business throughout the region. Organisations operating in the area should be aware of the changing threat environment, monitor local intelligence sources and review and maintain their contingency plans.