The Middle East 17th June 2018

Countries across the Middle East face political turmoil following the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and the ongoing conflict in Syria. Libya was slowly recovering post revolution but has come highly unstable due to inter factional fighting & criminal activity, including kidnapping which is on the rise. The FCO advises against all travel to Libya and Syria . IS has increased its presence in Libya. In Late March 2016 further attempts are being made to form a unity government but it is assess that Libya will remain very unstable for the  near to medium term. The FCO also advises against all travel to Syria, as an open civil war rages. The Conflict in Syria is likley to last many more monthsthe open involvement of Russia and Iran on the Government side has resulted in significant gains for the Assad Regime, Aleppo fell to the government in December 2016.  Jordan is part of the coalition against ISIL, tensions are high following IS's murder of Jordanian Air Force pilot in Jan 2015 and IS is likely to attempt attacks inside Jordan. The US issued a terrorist threat warning for Jordan in the middle of Dec 2016. Lebanon is now a major concern and tensions as inter religious tensions are being ignited by the unrest in Syria and the grouping Hezbollah is now becoming increasingly involved. Egypt, huge protests in early July 2013 lead the Army to remove President Morsi. Presidential elections were held in May 2014, ex Army Chief Sisi won overwhelming but very poor electoral turnout. Opposition to the Sisi government is growing, economically Egypt is suffering as the tourist trade has offered as a result of terrorism although through 2017 & into 2018 tourism is recovering. The bombing of a Russian passenger plane flying out of Sharm el Shekh on 31 Oct 2015 had led to many European countries, including the UK, stopping flying into the tourist destination. Presidential elections were held in late March 2018 and President was re-elected as there is no effective opposition.

The situation in Iraq is highly unstable due to ongoing friction between sunni and shia communities and ongoing Iraq operations against IS, these operations are gaining some success, the Kurds and Iraq Army (supported by the US) have dramatically reduced the IS presence. Tunisia and Algeria have remained relatively stable and both have conducted parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014. However in both countries Islamist terrorism is a concern and 17 tourists were killed in an attack on 18 March 2015 the Tunis Museum and a further 38 in the Sousse beach attack on 26th June 2015. In July 2017 the FCO changed its travel advice and most of the popular tourist areas are now ' back in bounds'. However the FCO advises against travel to much of the border areas with Algeria and Libya. A map can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/tunisia

The re-election of Netanyahu as Israeli Prime Minister will bring stability to the political landscape but not much comfort for those hoping for a two State solution with Palestine although talks about talks started in July 2013. The conflict with Gaza in July and Aug 2014 just highlight the stalemate that exists. Tension is high in Jerusalem following a number of fatal sectarian attacks in late 2014, throughout 2015 and into 2016, to date foreign nationals have not been targetted. The USA has announced that the move of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will occur in May 2018. The move has been widely condemned across the Middle East. Regional tensions with Iran are increasing as Iran's presence in Syria an its support of Hezbollah increase. Israel shot down an Iranian drone in Feb 2018 and an Israel fighter jet was also shot down on the same day. In mid May 18 there have been rocket fire between Iranian forces and Israel on the Golan Heights. 

Iran is opening to trade and tourism following the successful conclusion of the nuclear energy talks and is looking to improve relations with the West. Anyone who has been generally loves the country, very friendly with wonderful sites and topography. British, US and Canadian visitors require a guide/escort when travelling and the visa authorisation process will take weeks so plan well ahead. A vehicle borne expedition will need a Carnet De Passage, in the UK this can be obtained from Cars UK. The British Embassy has reopened in Tehran & BA fly direct from London. In May 2017 president Rouhani was re-elected giving hope that relations with the West will continue to improve although President Thump is publically being critical of the Iranian regime. At the end of December 2018 numberous street protests acorss dozen of towns and cities, occurred against the regime, without any obvious leadership. The government is warning that violent unrest will not be tolerated but as of 2 January the protest are continuing. The Rial has steadily been collapsing against the US$ causing a worse economic situation & the government is cracking down on the Black Market, arresting dealers - so take care changing money. Unrest against the government may increase. In early May President Trump announced announced the US was pulling out of the nuclear deal, the rial has fallen further.  

On 21 March 2017 the US Department of Homeland Security announced a ban on large and medium sized electronic goods in hand luggage on flights coming from the Middle East and North Africa. Mobiles are allowed. Airlines affected are Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Royal Air Maroc, Etihad, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Egypt Air, Kuwait Airlines, Qatar Airlines and Royal Jordanian Airlines. Some restrictions were lifted in July 2017, travellers must check before flying.

In a separate developement, on 5 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, eastern controlled Libya broke of diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it of financing the Islamic State. amongst demands is for Qatar to close down the Al Jazeera TV news network, one of the very few marginally independent media outlets in the region. Relations between these countries remain strained.

On 7th June 2017 there was a first IS attack in Iran which killed 12 people in 2 locations in Tehran.

VAT was introduced for the first time in UAE and Saudi Arabia on 01 Jan 2018

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