Travel Alert - North African Protests In A Nutshell
For several months now, countries in North Africa and The Middle East have been hit by revolution fever - with gutsy mass protests and sustained political demonstrations toppling regimes and causing chaos.
The historical ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has shown the world that 'People Power' is still a force to be reckoned with.
It has been suggested that the current wave of uprisings is the "First Wikileaks Revolution" after U.S cables were released detailing that Ben Ali was presiding over a decrepit and internationally unsupported regime in Tunisia. This information, some say, acted as the catalyst that pushed an already enraged Tunisian populace over the edge. The Tunisian uprising in turn inspired Egypt to topple their own leader, Hosni Mubarak.
Dubbed the 'Tunisia Effect' or the ‘Egypt Effect’, the successful uprisings have inspired other politically turbulent countries in the Middle East and North Africa to follow suit. The diversity of these protests has seen everything from peaceful, powerful demonstrations through to outright bloody massacres.
As a result, foreign offices from countries around the world have urged travellers planning to visit these regions to "reconsider your need to travel", citing political instability, bloody street clashes and great potential for personal harm.
With a situation not likely to go away anytime soon, here is a comprehensive list of North African and Middle Eastern countries that are affected, what has caused the unrest, and the potential harm you could face if you travel to these areas.
We have also gathered together a collection of links to interesting articles and breakdowns of affected countries.
Algeria – (Reconsider Your Need For Travel)
Algeria is currently a hotbed of activity, with thousands of Opposition Party protesters taking to the streets of the capital Algiers - calling for the removal of President Abedlaziz Bouteflika, and demanding political reform.
Unsanctioned protests are considered illegal by the Bouteflika Government, which forbids demonstrations when the country is in a state of emergency. Bouteflika has maintained a state of emergency in Algeria for the past 19 years – it was originally established as a response to terrorist threats.
But sustained protests have caused the Bouteflika government to bend considerably, with the announcement in February that the long standing emergency state would be lifted.
The move has now technically legalized protests in the capital of Algiers, if three days notice is given to authorities. However, the country's interior minister Dahou Ould Kabila, still insists that protests are banned due to security concerns.
Now, Algeria's largest minority group, the Kaybles, have issued a statement to the Algerian government, demanding a referendum on autonomy.
The group, which boasts almost 10 million people, say that protests will follow if the demands are not met.
Calls have been made for the U.S administration to intervene before wide scale protests, and possibly an uprising ensues. It seems, however, that The National Security Authority and The Pentagon have remained silent on these calls.
Go, or whoa?
It’s not the best time to go to Algeria, that’s for sure.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has listed you should ‘Reconsider Your Need For Travel’ due to political instability and the threat of terror attacks.
But considering Bouteflika’s hard line against opposition, and the massive amount of resources devoted to maintaining the status quo, it’s not likely that Algeria will see a revolt of Egyptian proportions.
Iran - (High Degree Of Caution)
Echoing violent protests in 2009, following Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinnejad's reinstatement as leader, Iranians have taken to the streets once again to voice their dissatisfaction with current rule.
The Iranian opposition claims that several people have been killed as a result of clashes between demonstrators and police during the protests, however, the Iranian government denies involvement in the killings, and blamed an outlaw group for shooting into the protest crowd.
It is expected protests will escalate.
Go or whoa?
DFAT says that travellers should exercise a high degree of caution if they wish to travel to Iran. The area is famously volatile, and a wave of fresh protests against a government highly intolerant of dissent indicates that more trouble could be on the horizon. Despite the government's insistence that recent protest deaths were not a result of action from Ahmedinnejad's military and police forces, it is no secret that they can be highly aggressive and trigger happy - as evident in the bloodshed experienced in 2009/2010.
Jordan - (High Degree Of Caution)
The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired the people of neighboring Jordan to embark on their own struggle to enact political change.
While the people of Egypt were celebrating victory, around 3500 Jordanian opposition supporters congregated in downtown Amman to denounce the unpopular policies of Prime Minister Samir Rifai.
No criticism was made of Jordan’s king, Abullah II, as remarks made against him are illegal.
The protest group was largely comprised of activists from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, along with members of trade unions and leftist organizations.
Initial demonstrations were successful, with The Royal Palace announcing the government would be sacked, and that ex-army general Marouf al-Bakhit would be forming a new cabinet.
However, after two months of relatively peaceful protests, the intensity of demonstrations escalated, resulting in a clash between citizens and police in Ammam square, leaving one person dead and 120 injured.
This clash resulted in a scaling back from the relatively inexperienced collection of protesters, who have largely been inspired by Egypt and Tunisia's uprisings.
The gap was filled quickly by Jordan's Islamic Action Front - a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The IAF have been relatively silent in recent months, but have seized the opportunity to take charge of the demonstrations swiftly.
There is concern however, that the IAF may not be speaking for all Jordanians, which may increase tensions.
Go or whoa?
Initially, opposition protests have been limited to only a few thousand – and have been relatively successful. But as we have now seen, Jordan is a 'slow-burner', and it is probable that protests, and clashes, will continue.
However, it seems highly unlikely that protests will escalate to anything remotely close to protests seen in Tunisia and Egypt.
The Australian Government says that travellers should exercise a high degree of caution when visiting the country – but this is largely due to terror threats.
Yemen - (Do not travel)
Following the Tunisian and Egyptian charge to remove their respective leaders from power, the Middle-Eastern country of Yemen saw anti-government protesters taking to the streets calling for President Ali Abdallah Saleh to stand down.
Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, has already promised to step down from the Presidency when his term ends in 2013.
The protests, which were initially against corruption, economic conditions and employment, saw clashes between government supporters, police and activists in the streets of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.
Protesters say they do not want to wait for Saleh's term to finish - rather, they want an immediate result. To quote one protester: "The fall of the government in Yemen will be just like what happened in Egypt".
But Saleh has not been compliant. The protests have been sustained and bloody. Scores of people have died as a result of the demonstrations.
President Saleh has now issued statements warning that protests will putting the country on the brink of "civil war".
The United States has now asked President Saleh to step down as the chaos continues to intensify.
Go or whoa?
Considering that Yemen is listed by DFAT as being a “Do Not Travel” destination, due to the high degree of terrorist risk and volatile security situation, Egypt inspired protests are only one factor contributing to the already volatile situation the country faces.
Bahrain (Reconsider Your Need For Travel)
Protests in the Middle Eastern island country of Bahrain have escalated to levels described as a "massacre", with scores of protesters killed after armed forces opened fire on demonstrations against King Hamad al-Khalifa and his regime.
Doctors have claimed police were "shooting to kill" due to the high majority of head shots sustained by the deceased victims.
It has been reported that scores of people are missing as a result of the protests, and reports on an almost daily basis have emerged of alleged kidnappings, human rights abuses by Bahrainian authorities and police.
The dire situation has sent Bahrain into political chaos - King Hamad al-Khalifa has now announced that a national dialogue “with all parties” has been requested to quell the violence.
Go or whoa?
DFAT has now listed Bahrain is a "Do Not Travel" destination as a result of the protests and the heightened risk of terrorist attacks. It is hard to determine what the outcome of any discussions will be, and it is even harder to determine how long the protests may last.
Libya - (Do not travel)
Libyans protesting the de facto leadership of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi have been met with brute force and horrific bloodshed, with over hundreds of people killed as a result of clashes between demonstrators and foreign mercenaries and Gaddafi loyalists.
Witnesses say that Libyan forces have pushed their artillery muscles to the extreme - using AK-47 Kalashnikovs and anti-aircraft missiles to dispose of protesters. During one incident, forces opened fire on mourners during a funeral procession for protesters killed earlier.
Now, U.S, British and French forces have engaged in armed conflict with Gaddafi's military forces, resulting in a complete demolition of the Libyan air force.
Libya is a complete war-zone now, with political, social and economic systems of the region in total disarray.
Gaddafi has acted as de facto leader of Libya since a political coup in 1969. Under his leadership, freedom of speech, press, protest and religion are prohibited.
Go or whoa?
DFAT says that travellers should not visit the destination. Canadians are prohibited to enter the country due to political reasons. Libya is normally considered a highly volatile country, and with recent developments, this volatility has only been heightened.
Morocco (High degree of caution)
Moroccans, especially Moroccan youths, have been inspired by the Tunisian/Egyptian protests and sparked fears in the Moroccan royal family that copy-cat demonstrations could take place.
The fears were realised on February 20, when thousands of protesters took to the streets of Morrocco's capital Rabat. Demonstrations have continued consistently since then, demanding democracy and an end to corruption. But the protests have taken an ugly turn, with at least 5 people killed and over 130 injured as a result of clashes between security forces and protesters.
Go Or Whoa?
DFAT lists the country as a "Reconsider Your Need For Travel" destination - however, it lists the Western Sahara area as a "Do Not Travel" area.
Syria (High degree of caution)
Syria is now a war zone. The foreign offices of The United States, Britain and Australia have now all warned against travel to the middle eastern country after the killing of hundreds of protesters by security forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Al-Assad, who previously remarked that his state was immune from Egypt style mass protests, recently announced his resignation of his cabinet after weeks of mass protests. However, al-Assad has shown no mercy to dissenters, despite the resignation. Government snipers have systematically taken out demonstrators - activists who under current law, are allowed to protest but only with interior ministry approval (and clearly, it seems any protest requests made to the government are not being taken seriously).The United States and the United Nations are now formulating strategies to combat the situation, but are under criticism for their heavy involvement in Libya at the cost of Syrian security.
Go Or Whoa?
In recent weeks, protests have been bloody, with hundreds killed. Syria is in a dangerous and volatile position. Our advice is to not go to Syria under any circumstances.
Author: Phil Sylvester
In mid-August 2013 several countries changed their travel warnings for Egypt following the spread of civil unrest to the Red Sea resort of Hurghada. A protest in the area, but well away from tourist precincts, last Wednesday led to the death of one person. read more »
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