International SOS Security Advisory Update: Limit unnecessary movement near known protest locations in Cairo due to potential for further violence on 14 September
Posted: September 14, 2012
International SOS Security Advisories
Medical Alerts and Travel Security Online 14 Sep 2012
Egypt: Limit unnecessary movement near known protest locations in Cairo due to potential for further violence on 14 September
Travellers should avoid unnecessary movement in the vicinity of known protest locations in the capital Cairo on 14 September due to the potential for unrest associated with ongoing anti-US demonstrations against a controversial film that allegedly insults the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) organisation and several ultra-conservative Salafist groups plan to demonstrate in Cairo's central Tahrir Square following Friday afternoon prayers.
Localised clashes between the security forces and protesters occurred earlier in the day near the US embassy in the city; the police used tear gas to forcefully disperse hundreds of demonstrators who had been throwing stones at the mission during an overnight protest on 13-14 September. President Mohammed Morsi has denounced the film and called for peaceful demonstrations.
Travellers should monitor events closely and be aware of what to do in the event of a security incident. Localised disturbances are likely to continue between the embassy and Tahrir Square in the coming hours. Demonstrations on 14 September are likely to be well attended and while the MB and Morsi have called for the event to be peaceful, Islamist groups have traditionally had difficulty containing the activities of their members and clashes between protesters and the security forces should be expected, especially in the vicinity of the embassy.
It is unlikely that demonstrators will succeed in breaching the embassy compound as the mission is a highly secure facility and will be amply guarded. However, if clashes do occur, unrest could spill over into neighbouring districts. Personnel in the vicinity would face considerable incidental – and conceivably direct – risks, given the anti-US sentiment likely to be voiced during the demonstrations. For this reason, we recommend that travellers limit unnecessary movement in the area to mitigate the risk of exposure to violence.
Severe traffic disruption is likely in central Cairo on the day; the security forces can be expected to close thoroughfares and impose checkpoints. Personnel should leave extra time for journeys through the city. Protests, with a potential for localised unrest, are also possible in other urban centres.
The controversy over the film, which was produced in the US, emerged on 11 September. A large, generally peaceful, demonstration was staged at the embassy on the day. More serious disturbances began late on 12 September and persisted throughout the night. Despite calls by the Coptic Christian group Maspero Youth Union (MYU) for a solidarity rally at the embassy, the crowd was reportedly largely made up of Muslim youths and activist football supporters known as ‘Ultras', who threw rocks and firebombs at the security forces; the latter responded with tear gas. Similarly, localised clashes persisted on 13 September in areas between the US embassy – which remains closed, along with the nearby Canadian mission – and Tahrir Square. At least 70 people were injured, including several security force personnel. However, the situation was effectively contained to the fringes of Tahrir Square, near the Omar Makram mosque.
Controversial depictions of the prophet Muhammad and other developments perceived as being un-Islamic have previously triggered disturbances across the Middle East and Asia. Most notoriously, in February 2006, cartoons of Muhammad published in the Danish press sparked off violent, and often fatal, demonstrations in several countries. Although protests against the cartoons were relatively minor in Egypt, the political and religious landscape of the country has altered since the 2011 uprising, as has the overall security situation. This makes the current scenario somewhat less predictable than previous controversies over alleged insults to Muhammad and Islam in general.
Travel Advice Summary
- Travel to Egypt can continue.
- Travellers are advised to limit unnecessary movement in the vicinity of known protest locations – including the US embassy and Tahrir Square – in Cairo until the situation stabilises.
- All demonstrations should be avoided as a basic security precaution, due to the credible risk of unrest.
- Avoid all protests, rallies and strike activity; liaise with your hotel and hosts on the timing and location of any planned event.
- Ensure you are fully briefed on the situation prior to travel and monitor developments for signs of rising tension prior to and during your stay. Ensure you know what to do in the event of a security incident, such as localised unrest, during your stay.