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Political instability expected to continue in run-up to elections, despite cessation of unrest – Kyrgyzstan Special Report

This report was written by Danielle Levi – Senior Analyst for Central & South Asia

And edited by Ollie Wiltshire – Regional Director, Asia-Pacific

Executive Summary:

Unrest erupted across Kyrgyzstan in response to the October 4 parliamentary elections, which were marred by allegations of fraud and vote-buying by parties aligned with the government.

Protests continued even after the annulment of the election results on October 6, informed by widespread discontent over the government’s inaction to corruption allegations, prompting then-President Jeenbekov to resign.

The anti-corruption platform and strong mobilization capabilities of newly incumbent leader Japarov bolstered his quick ascension to power within days of being freed from jail by his supporters.

However, opposition to Japarov’s rule and the risk of civil unrest will remain high in the medium term, particularly over the leader’s push for constitutional reforms and the possibility of a further consolidation of power in his favor, though the political transition is unlikely to affect the country’s foreign policy.

Japarov may seek to renegotiate the terms of prior agreements with foreign-owned mining companies or pursue tougher regulations on operations and is further liable to continue harsh rhetoric against such companies ahead of upcoming polls, increasing the risk of vandalism against mining sites and offices.

Travel to Kyrgyzstan can continue while adhering to security precautions regarding protests, civil unrest amid the ongoing political instability.

Current situation:

On October 4, Kyrgyzstan held elections for its 120-member unicameral Parliament, called the Supreme Council or the Jogorku Kenesh in Kyrgyz. 16 political parties contested the polls, of which a total of four passed the necessary seven percent threshold to enter Parliament.

Following the announcement of the results, massive protests erupted across the country, including in Bishkek, to denounce the electoral process due to widespread allegations of fraud. Protests quickly escalated, with hundreds of demonstrators storming government buildings and offices. Instances of vandalism were also recorded across the country, including against offices and facilities of foreign-owned mining companies.

During the chaos, protesters freed several prominent political leaders from prison, including former President Almazbek Atambayev and Sadyr Japarov of the Mekenchil party. The latter was serving an 11.5-year sentence for kidnapping a government official in 2013 and, immediately after his release, declared himself the country’s new Prime Minister during an address in front of his supporters.

The Central Election Committee quickly annulled the parliamentary elections on October 6, urging for new polls to be held in the coming months. Despite the annulment, protests continued, prompting then-President Soornobay Jeenbekov to declare a state of emergency on October 9.

The new regulation, however, did little to quell protesters, who increasingly converged behind Japarov. During an extrajudicial parliamentary session held on October 10, Japarov was elected as the new PM before being formally appointed on October 14.

Meanwhile, Japarov’s supporters called for the resignation of President Jeenbekov and Parliament Speaker Kanat Isayev from the Kyrgyzstan Party, who had been elected to his post a few days prior. Both ended up officially notifying the Parliament of their resignations on October 16, following which the powers of the presidency were transferred to PM Japarov.

On October 22, following the Parliament’s approval, acting President Japarov signed changes to election laws, approving a delay in parliamentary elections until June 2021 instead of the initial December 20 deadline. The move was reportedly set to allow the drafting of new electoral laws, which must be completed by January 21. PM Japarov has advocated to decrease the number of seats in the Parliament and to alter the electoral system to strengthen the powers of the presidency, among others.

Meanwhile, presidential elections have been scheduled for January 10, 2021. Currently, a law prohibits the acting president from presenting himself as a candidate. However, acting President Japarov announced on October 26 that he will step down from his position in December to become eligible to run in the following month.

In a separate development, the former deputy chairperson of the State Customs Raiymek Matraimov was briefly detained on October 20. Matraimov is at the center of the biggest money-laundering scandal in the country and is accused of having established a corruption scheme through border smuggling. Following his arrest, a judge ruled to immediately release Matraimov and hold him under house arrest, while authorities stated that the official will be paying back approximately 24 million USD in damages to the state.


Since Kyrgyzstan’s independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has been marked by political turmoil and civil unrest that resulted in regime changes in 2005 and 2010. These two popular uproars were largely led by the country’s elites and marked a clash between competing networks of politics, business, and criminal groups.

In 2005, in the wake of a disputed parliamentary election, during which opposition candidates were barred from contesting and amid widespread discontent over allegations of corruption within the incumbent government, protests erupted against the then-President Askar Akayev, who, after weeks of unrest, fled the country and later resigned.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev was then appointed PM and interim President, before being elected President in the July 2005 presidential elections with nearly 89 percent of the vote. However, during his rule, Bakiyev faced widespread accusations of corruption and nepotism.

In early 2010, violent protests erupted across the country over rising utility prices and government repression, and at least 80 individuals were killed and hundreds injured during clashes between law enforcement and protesters in the capital. After weeks of unrest, Bakiyev resigned and fled to Belarus. In the aftermath of the anti-government unrest, inter-ethnic clashes between Uzbek and Kyrgyz residents also broke out in the southern city of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

Following Bakiyev’s removal, a constitutional referendum was held under the interim administration of Roza Otunbayeva, transforming Kyrgyzstan from a presidential system to a parliamentary republic. Later on October 10, 2010, parliamentary elections were held under the new regulations, during which the pro-Bakiyev party Ata-Zurth, led by Kamchybek Tashiyev and to which Japarov belonged, won a majority of seats. The party had largely advocated reversing the new laws. After weeks of negotiations, a coalition was formed with the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, the Respublika Party, and the Ata-Zurth Party, following which Almazbek Atambayev was elected PM.

Atambayev later resigned from his post of PM and was elected President for a seven-year term during the presidential elections in October 2011. During his rule, Atambayev passed constitutional amendments shifting powers from the president to the prime minister.

In 2017, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Atambayev’s former PM and ally, won the presidential elections. Relations between the two politicians soured during Jeenbekov’s rule. Atambayev was arrested in 2019 based on several charges, including “organizing mass unrest.

Assessments & Forecast:

Widespread discontent over government’s inaction on corruption allegations precursor to civil unrest 

Similar to 2005 and 2010, the latest unrest in Kyrgyzstan appears to have been largely triggered by widespread discontent with the country’s ruling elite due to accusations of corruption within the incumbent administration. These grievances were already evident in late 2019, during which large demonstrations were held in Bishkek following the publication of a report by a group of media outlets accusing former deputy chairperson of the State Customs Raiymbek Matraimov of establishing a major corruption scheme.

While allegations of corruption against the influential Matraimov had already been levied in previous years, the large attendance at the protests in late 2019 pointed to growing public frustrations over the government’s perceived failure to carry out a credible investigation into the corruption allegations. The government’s perceived inaction following the killing of a key source in the Matraimov investigation in November 2019 in Turkey may have also lent credence to claims issued by anti-corruption activists that Matraimov was working with the Jeenbekov administration.

In the wake of parliamentary elections, public frustration further grew amid reports of a massive vote-buying operation committed by parties close to the government – allegations that President Jeenbekov denied. These reports of fraud largely informed the widespread rejection of the results on October 4 that saw only four out of the 16 parties contesting past the necessary threshold to enter the Parliament, of which three were closely associated with President Jeenbekov. Additionally, the fact that the My Homeland (Mekenim) Kyrgyzstan party, believed to be closely associated with Matraimov, won 45 out of the 120 seats likely cemented the perception of nepotism within the government, which in turn catalyzed the large-scale unrest of October 2020.

Japarov’s anti-corruption platform & strong mobilization capabilities bolstered his ascension to power 

Japarov’s ascension to power is highly notable given his swift ability to secure the positions of both PM and President following his liberation from prison on October 5-6. Despite his claim that the transition of power was done peacefully, his rise appears largely bolstered by his widespread mobilization capabilities, which have been displayed in Bishkek repeatedly during the current wave of unrest. His supporters demonstrated a willingness to disobey public orders and employ intimidation tactics, such as threatening rival political leaders, including Jeenbekov,  and storming government buildings, which later inflamed allegations that Japarov was assisted by criminal organizations. These tactics used by Japarov’s supporters rendered the authorities’ efforts to avoid violently dispersing his crowd ineffective and thus partly ensured the current leader’s rise.

Japarov seemed to enjoy a well-organized support base that he was able to swiftly mobilize through social media platforms and instant messaging applications. His public notoriety appears to have been largely built during his anti-government activities in 2012-2013 against a Canadian-owned gold mine, during which he initiated large-scale protests in Bishkek and Kararol, located in the Issyk-Kul Region. His advocacy in supporting the nationalization of the gold mine appears to be at the core of his popular support, given that opposition to the privatization of key state assets was a central public issue during the 2010 unrest.

Meanwhile, Japarov’s anti-corruption platform, at which he hinted during a speech made on October 8 warning that Matraimov would be detained once he was elected to power, further boosted his public support. This is given widespread discontent over the corruption allegations of Jeenbekov’s administration. His limited experience in government combined with his work as part of the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption from 2008-2011 allowed him to capitalize on the current wave of dissatisfaction and project himself as an outsider to the allegedly corrupt political elite.

Opposition to Japarov’s rule & risk of civil unrest remains high over medium term  

In the immediate term, Japarov’s rise to power will diminish unrest in Bishkek, evidenced by the Parliament’s withdrawal of the state of emergency on October 18. However, challenges to Japarov’s rule are likely to persist, making political stability unlikely in the medium term.

This opposition will likely focus on legally countering Japarov’s push to reform the Constitution, particularly with regard to the presidency. Specifically, several opposition leaders are expected to oppose Japarov’s efforts to afford more power to the presidential office. This was already demonstrated by a statement made on October 22 by the opposition Ata Meken party, stressing that the parliamentary system must be preserved and that the president’s authority should be decreased. Ata Meken party, nonetheless, voted in favor of postponing the parliamentary election to enable a change of the Constitution on October 22, due to a proposed clause supporting a decrease in the threshold necessary to enter the Parliament, among others, which will directly benefit many opposition parties. FORECAST: In this context, the debate over constitutional changes, including the form that the government ought to take, is expected to be at the center of political tensions in the coming term. This is liable to trigger new waves of protests in the coming months, though such pushback will likely become more apparent closer to Presidential elections slated for January 10 and January 21, when the constitutional reforms must be completed.

Meanwhile, Acting President Japarov’s appointments of key public leaders may also trigger opposition to his rule if they are deemed to follow similar patterns of corruption allegedly seen in the previous administrations. The appointment on October 16 of his long-time ally Kamchybek Tashiyev to the post of Chairperson of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS), the national agency responsible for intelligence on counterterrorism and organized crime, may lead to such concerns. This especially given that the agency is tasked with arresting political leaders accused of corruption and could be viewed as Japarov using a long-time ally to shield himself from criminal scrutiny. Concerns may also spike over the appointment of politicians closely associated with former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who Japarov supported in the past, given that the Bakiyev was deposed in 2010 through popular protests.

FORECAST: In this context, Japarov is expected to double his effort to project himself as a legitimate political leader in an attempt to counter allegations that he is associated with criminal networks and concerns over his rise to power on the back of intimidation tactics. These efforts were already evidenced by the brief arrest of Raimbek Matraimov on October 20, aimed to cement Japarov’s image as an anti-corruption champion.

However, while Matraimov’s arrest is notable, given his reputation of being a “kingmaker” in Kyrgyzstan, it will only fully cement Japarov’s position as an anti-corruption platform if a credible investigation is carried out into Matraimov’s family. FORECAST: However, this remains highly unlikely, based on Matraimov’s swift release and the announcement that he would pay approximately 2 million USD to the state, suggesting a deal was quickly cut. Furthermore, Japarov’s announcement on October 21 stating that any former officials who illegally enriched themselves through corruption would be able to voluntarily reimburse the state and receive “economic amnesty” will further cast a doubt on the leader’s strong anti-corruption credentials.

Kyrgyzstan’s political transition unlikely to affect country’s foreign policy 

Similar to the 2005 and the 2010 regime changes, recent events are unlikely to bring a notable change to Bishkek’s foreign policy. Japarov will attempt to project an image of stability to his international counterparts while highlighting his respect for the country’s democratic institutions and laws. This is likely to be done in an effort to push back on the EU’s statement of concern with Japarov’s rise to power and the US’ statement criticizing “attempts by organized crime groups to exert influence over politics and elections.” These efforts were already witnessed on October 22 with the detention of notorious crime boss Kamchy Kolbayev, for whom the US Department of State’s Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program had offered a reward linked to information leading to the disruption of the financial mechanism of his criminal network. The US Embassy in Bishkek issued a statement welcoming the detention.

Meanwhile, China’s relatively muted reaction, which mostly consisted of a brief statement issued by the Foreign Ministry expressing concern, is notable, given Beijing’s major investments in Kyrgyzstan. However, its reaction falls in line with its general policy of refraining from interfering in the domestic affairs of a foreign country. FORECAST: Now that Japarov consolidated power, Chinese officials are expected to engage with Kyrgyz officials to ensure the security of their economic interests, including gold mines, given that these infrastructures have been the target of vandalism during the recent turmoil. Chinese officials are also likely to attempt to strengthen China’s economic cooperation with the new government, given that the previous administration had backed down from supporting Chinese-funded projects following public protests. However, due to Kyrgyzstan’s prolonged political instability, Beijing’s difficulties in carrying out projects with Bishkek are liable to persist. Nevertheless, given that China owns a substantial part of Kyrgyzstan’s debt, Japarov is unlikely to seek a confrontation with his Chinese counterparts.

Russia’s reaction to the crisis has been similarly restricted, pointing to its relative indifference to who remains in power. This is underscored by the meeting held between the then-President Jeenbekov, Japarov, and Russia’s Deputy Minister for post-Soviet integration, Dmitry Kozak, on October 12, which illustrated Moscow’s willingness to engage with all parties. This was likely informed by perceptions that a regime change in Kyrgyzstan was unlikely to bring anti-Russia forces to power, given that most Kyrgyz political actors have strong ties to the Kremlin and due to the large support for Russia among Kyrgyzstan’s population. Nonetheless, Russia remains highly concerned with the political stability of former Soviet countries, and the withdrawal of its financial assistance to Bishkek on October 15 was likely aimed at pressuring Kyrgyzstan’s ruling elite into finding a swift resolution to the current crisis. FORECAST: In the coming term, Kyrgyz-Russian relations are expected to remain strong. This was already evidenced by the Kyrgyz Foreign Minister’s statement on October 25 saying that the country was willing to consider expanding Russia’s airbase in Kant in the Ysyk-Ata District of Chuy Region and Japarov’s plan to conduct his first foreign visit to Russia.

Japarov likely to continue harsh rhetoric against foreign-owned gold mining companies ahead of upcoming polls, increasing risks of vandalism 

During the recent political unrest, several English, Canadian, Russian and Chinese-owned mines were attacked across the country, pointing to the public’s high discontent with foreign-owned mining operations, which are widely perceived to be benefiting from Kyrgyztan’s natural resources at the expense of the local population and damaging the country’s environment. Due to Japarov’s past experience in organizing protests to nationalize the Canadian-owned Kumtor gold mine in 2012-2013, the leader is expected to step up rhetoric against foreign-owned mines over the coming months in an effort to boost his support. This effort will likely be integrated into his anti-corruption platform, given that the Kumtor gold mine has recurrently been at the center of corruption scandals in the country.

Despite the rhetoric, Japarov appears to have softened his attitude towards Kumtor in terms of actual action, evidenced by statements on October 22 claiming that the nationalization of the gold mine was not relevant in 2020. This placatory approach is largely thought to be informed by the Canadian company’s substantial contribution to Kyrgyzstan’s economy, accounting for approximately 10 percent of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Rather, the acting leader is liable to seek a renegotiation of the terms of the Kumtor agreement as well as speak about pursuing tougher regulations on gold mining. Such measures may exceed the Jeenbekov administration’s efforts to increase tax rates for the mining industry, which raised taxes by seven percent from November 1 and 10 percent starting 2023.

Meanwhile, in the event that Japarov uses populist rhetoric against foreign-owned mines, this will increase the risks of vandalism against mines and offices of gold-mine extraction companies, particularly in the run-up to the elections. Moreover, instances of unrest relating to political developments in Bishkek also increase the risks of vandalism against foreign-owned interests. Finally, the difficulties faced by law enforcement to prevent instances of looting highlight the subpar security conditions in Kyrgyzstan, which are unlikely to improve in the coming term.


Travel to Kyrgyzstan may continue at this time while adhering to standard security protocols given the latent threat of crime and violent civil unrest.

Those operating or residing in Kyrgyzstan are advised to maintain heightened vigilance due to the risk of unrest resulting from the current political instability and ahead of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential polls.

Individuals in the country are advised to maintain awareness of important political developments and avoid all protests, political rallies, and large gatherings, due to the risk of being involved in violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces or counter-protesters.

Special Report: How Social Media Activism is Threatening the Reputation and Physical Security of Global Companies

This report was written by:

Ollie Wiltshire – MAX Security’s Regional Director of Intelligence, Europe and the Americas

Adam Charlton – MAX Security’s Senior Analyst for Europe and the Americas

While protests, boycotts, and other forms of activism have always been a threat to the private sector, recent developments in social media technology and political trends have uncovered a series of evolving risks. Traditional activism towards the private sector often involved the targeting of businesses due to practices deemed to be unethical or opposed to certain political or social movements. In recent years, activists and political movements have expanded their methods of protest in a series of evolving ways, which can have a significant impact on private enterprises.

As research on the operations of any businesses becomes easier through various online resources, in addition to the ease with which findings can be shared on social media, potential links between private businesses and controversial governments or policies can be identified by a growing number of individuals. This enables smaller groups to easily find businesses that they can present as opposed to niche causes, dramatically increasing the number of companies potentially targeted.

Similarly, the private comments of employees or individuals associated with businesses also play a more significant role in catalyzing protests than in the past. Controversial statements can often lead to the company being associated with a wide variety of political positions not representing the values of the business, some of which may spark the interest of various activist groups.

It will focus on physical security threats which arise from distorted, negative images of brands, which can be mitigated by monitoring online trends, attitudes, and corporate reputations.

For further information on how you can track and protect your company’s reputation and physical security through Brand Monitoring Services please contact Max Security Solutions at +44 (0) 203 540 0434 and [email protected]

Risk: Protests targeting companies for the actions of associated governments

Increasingly, activists target companies due to controversial actions of associated governments, either in the company’s country of origin or in a country of operation, despite limited connections between the business and the controversial actions.

One catalyst for these types of risks is the ease with which activist groups can research and disseminate information online regarding an organization’s associations and operations. Through social media and rudimentary online researching capabilities, activists are able to quickly build a list of companies deemed to be linked with controversial governments who are then targeted for protests. Additionally, activists, particularly in young or radical groups, may not research with diligence to understand the extent of the association between the private company and the government in question.

The decision to target private companies, instead of government buildings, is often one of convenience. Private facilities are far less secure and easier to identify than government offices. Protesting a business that may have multiple offices or stores with minimal security is typically more accessible than targeting embassies or consulates, which already have established security structures and are typically better equipped to handle demonstrations.

Activists often perceive protesting against companies based on the actions of governments in areas of operation as a way of putting pressure on the targeted government indirectly. Especially in countries reliant on foreign investment, protesters aim to threaten companies through physical disruptions and boycotts in an attempt to affect the economic situation of the country and compel the government to change its policies. Given the multitude of grievances against any one government, these protests can follow seemingly random trends which necessitate a deep understanding and close tracking in order to adequately predict threats and risks before they manifest. Even if a company is not involved in a controversy, it is important to monitor brand reputations, particularly if the company can be, even loosely or falsely, associated with controversial government policies.

Case Study: Anti-Turkish protests against private companies in Europe amid military operations in Syria

Since Turkish military operations in Syria began to expand in January 2018, there has been an uptick in anti-Turkish sentiment within Kurdish and Anarchist communities across Europe. This sentiment has manifested in mass protests, most notably in Germany, as well as vandalism and incendiary attacks on Turkish government buildings, including embassies and consulates across Europe. However, pro-Kurdish activists have not limited attacks to government institutions. Activists have targeted multiple private companies linked to or seen to cooperate with Turkey. For example, on March 11, a mass brawl broke out in Dusseldorf Airport, Germany as demonstrators protesting against a Turkish-based airline clashed with passengers. On April 10, activists planted and detonated a bomb outside of a bank with links to Turkey in Bologna, Italy.

Such protests were facilitated by online groups which would aggregate information on companies that were deemed to somehow support Turkish operations in Syria and disseminate findings to protesters in order to encourage attacks and demonstrations.

Risk: Protests against companies for unofficial positions and sponsorship

Due to the increasing use of social media and online news, the opinions of a company’s senior leadership are more available and under closer inspection than in the past. This opens private businesses up to scrutiny for opinions or political positions held and expressed by employees, which potentially do not reflect the official values of the company. As such, the personal opinions of company leaders and lower-level employees alike can overshadow or even undermine company policy.

Focusing on quotes from employees or controversial sponsorship links allows more casual observers and activists to easily find targets for protests and can often quickly galvanize public outrage. Similarly, due to social media trends, political positions of individuals linked to or sponsoring particular organizations can quickly encourage negative sentiments and widen the scope of protest movements, especially when the subject of the controversy is particularly sensitive. Such risks require rapid detection in order to fully formulate a public relations strategy which can quickly solve the issues and reframe the reputation of the company along its actual values.

Case study: Sponsors targeted for taking positions on both sides of debate over national anthem protests by US athletes

In 2017, controversy arose in the US sporting world surrounding a movement which saw many players kneel during the national anthem in protest of various policies deemed to negatively impact African-Americans. This trend gained significant attention nationwide and given the extensive corporate sponsorship in the US sports industry, quickly led to calls, from both sides, to target large businesses over their stances on the issue, either official or unofficial.

One sponsor’s CEO reportedly expressed his disappointment in a league’s response to the players’ protest on social media and subsequently reported a decrease in quarterly sales. The CEO linked the poor sales to the league’s public image. Another company reportedly faced significant physical and online protests for refusing to comment on the controversy.

In this case, companies were boycotted for sponsoring the league, as well as for their position on the kneeling protest, whether it was an official position or that of a prominent employee. The case demonstrates the risks which can be mitigated by paying particular attention to local, regional, and international political and social trends, as well as the public image of private businesses with links to any controversy. Particularly, it is crucial that companies not only see the public image they create but also how it appears in the eyes of the consumer, especially during times of political sensitivity.

Manifestation of Protests

Boycotting allows for protesters to demonstrate their grievances in a direct way and is increasingly common across the political spectrum, due to its relative ease, wide legality, and potential impact. Boycotts offer activists an easily organized form of protest, in which results are often less tangible than counting the numbers attending a rally. This allows activists to avoid the possibility of poorly attended demonstrations, which often give the impression of the grievance being a niche cause or lacking in support.

Physical protests are becoming easier to organize via social media, spreading details far beyond typical activist circles. That said, protests can vary significantly both in size and nature. Companies with multiple locations or offices may find protests less well attended but affecting a larger number of offices or stores. Conversely, companies with well-known central offices or locations may witness protests with significant turnout outside these locations, while smaller or peripheral locations remain unaffected.

Spray painting or other means of vandalizing a physical company asset is often intimidating for employees, especially if it involves or threatens violence. Increasingly in southern and central Europe, as well as South America, vandals use Molotov cocktails or other incendiary devices, which, while intimidating, tend to only cause structural damage. These attacks can often be difficult to prevent completely, however, typically occur at night.


Potential for militancy, protest activity heightened during March 26-28 elections; major instability as seen in past years unlikely – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On March 26-28, Egypt will hold Presidential elections. Current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi will be running for reelection against El-Ghad Party leader Moussa Mostafa Moussa.

Moussa has stated that he supports al-Sisi for president, despite his own candidacy. Numerous political opposition leaders declared a boycott of the elections, in protest of the current administration’s detention and alleged pressure on previous candidates to withdraw.

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood political organization and other anti-government groups have yet to release official calls for protests during the elections. In recent weeks, authorities announced arrests of Muslim Brotherhood elements “seeking to interrupt the elections and endanger public safety.” On less frequent occasions in past weeks, security forces apprehended militants belonging to the Hasam Movement, a militant group comprised of pro-Muslim Brotherhood elements, who were “planning to carry out attacks during the elections”.

The Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai released media on February 11 in which it threatens to attack polling stations across the country during the elections, and warned “the Muslim public” to avoid voting sites and other locales associated with the elections in view of attack operations. The Sunni jihadist group stated the Presidential elections are “the greatest form of polytheism.”

In IS’s official literature on February 15, the group encouraged attacks by its militants and supporters, stating that “attacks will show al-Sisi’s allies that he is incapable of controlling security in the main areas under his rule, let alone distant regions like Sinai, the Western Desert, and areas in Aswan and Upper Egypt.”

Assessments & Forecast

Al-Sisi likely to be reelected

Considering al-Sisi’s current competition in the election, the result is likely predetermined, and al-Sisi will be reelected for another term. Moussa’s candidacy is likely meant to provide the elections with an appearance of being democratic and to lend credibility to al-Sisi’s mandate as head of state upon his reelection. The successful removal of all serious candidates is indicative of the support al-Sisi maintains among Egypt’s military and security elites, who trust that he will protect their interests, especially their financial stakes and Egypt’s overall stability. The detention of two former high-ranking figures of the armed forces demonstrated this, namely former Prime Minister and Egyptian Air Force (EAF) Commander in Chief Ahmed Shafiq, and former Chief of Staff of Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) Sami Hafez Anan, who both subsequently left the Presidential race. Al-Sisi could not have placed these long-serving, well-connected military rivals into custody if he did not have the backing of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the heads of Egypt’s intelligence service. In light of this, al-Sisi will likely retain this support in the coming years, rendering a change in the country’s leadership improbable.

Protests likely in lead-up, during elections, but government likely to effectively contain

Though calls for holding anti-government protests during the elections have yet to be issued, they will likely be released in the coming days, given widely held sentiments against the current leadership, and a view of the elections as undemocratic prevailing among the public. Muslim Brotherhood activists release calls for nationwide protests on a weekly basis, and the theme of their anti-government protest activity in the coming week is liable to focus on denouncing the al-Sisi Presidency and elections as illegitimate. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups will likely stage protests in conjunction with the elections.

FORECAST: The rate of protest activity will likely rise over this period relative to recent months. Some of these will be planned, and others will occur on a sporadic, spontaneous basis, likely near polling stations. The protests may devolve into civil unrest, featuring scuffles and localized clashes between participants and security personnel. This would stem from the anti-government nature of the demonstrations and heightened sensitivity over the elections. Events of this volatile nature would likely be forcibly scattered by security forces, including through the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets.

However, this period is unlikely to witness the type of destabilizing unrest seen during Egypt’s revolution and subsequent political upheaval of 2011-2013. In more recent years, the rate of anti-government protest activity and unrest has declined significantly. This is due to various government measures, including the arrests of thousands of anti-government activists and their leaders. This has left such groups without much of its capable leadership who organized political operations and demonstrations, and deprived of a large share of their membership. Citizens’ political will to engage in major protest campaigns has also likely markedly diminished, given protesters’ general lack of success in achieving their goals, and the human toll taken over the course of their pursuits.

Moreover, in advance of recent sensitive political dates and events, authorities have also closed off symbolic places previously used as protest sites, including Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as well as main thoroughfares. This has prevented protests from materializing, thus averting large-scale violent incidents as seen in 2001-2013, and stopping protest movements from gaining traction and momentum overall. Authorities will once again implement this security strategy from May 26-28, which will likely be effective overall in containing and preventing anti-government demonstrations.

Militancy threats from jihadist, disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood groups heightened during election period

The rate of militancy-related events in mainland Egypt, including attacks and arrests of militants, has declined in recent years, and more so over past months. However, the potential for militant attacks on March 26-28 will be relatively heightened, as militant groups seek to damage al-Sisi’s reputation for tackling militancy, presenting him as unable to secure the country. A successful attack during the period of the Presidential elections would attract wide media attention for the militant group responsible, given the public and symbolic nature of this period. This would bolster the militant group’s profile, including by its members and supporters, possibly motivating further attacks and drawing recruits to its ranks. This is underscored by an IED attack targeting Alexandria’s chief of police on March 24 which authorities have stated was carried out by the Hasam Movement. A further example of such an event is the most recent attack in mainland Egypt claimed by IS, namely the operation targeting a Coptic Church in Helwan during the holiday season, on December 29, 2017.

As to the statements released by IS and its Sinai-affiliate threatening and calling for attacking polling stations and associated installations, these were likely aimed to deter Egyptians from voting, thus lowering the participation rate in the elections. This would further undermine al-Sisi’s mandate in the view of the Egyptian public, and diminish the reputation of the country’s authorities. This corresponds to IS’s overall strategy in Egypt, which is to weaken Egypt’s leadership, damage the State, in turn replacing it with an Islamic State in the future. Another Sunni jihadist group posing potential dangers during the election period, is the relatively new Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, which was responsible for the large-scale October 20, 2017 Bahariya Oasis attack. According to reports, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam has gained dozens of new members in recent months, including Islamist former members of the security forces, and an attack during the elections would greatly publicize the group’s existence and present it as especially capable.

The Hasam Movement, and similar militant groups consisting of pro-Muslim Brotherhood elements such as Liwaa al-Thawra, likely see the election period as a particularly attractive time to launch attacks. This is in response to the Muslim Brotherhood political organization’s continued banned status and removal from the sanctioned political landscape, and in response to authorities’ ongoing crackdown on the group’s members. These groups target security personnel, government officials, and those aligned with authorities. That said, bystanders face a threat of collateral damage in the event of the attacks. Overall, these groups have not been especially active of late, and the last claimed attack claimed was for an IED detonation at the Myanmar Embassy in Cairo on September 30, 2017, which Hasam claimed to have executed. However, the groups remain in operation, as indicated by periodically recorded arrests of their members over past months, and thus, they pose a persisting threat, especially during the symbolic election period.

FORECAST: Over the coming days, authorities will implement bolstered security protocols around the country, including posting additional security personnel, especially near polling stations and potential protest sites on May 26-28. Security forces will likely carry out raids targeting both militant elements and anti-government activists, to mitigate the potential for militant activity and larger-scale civil unrest to unfold. However, comparatively large gatherings of security personnel present attractive targets for militant groups, which may draw the attention of such elements during the elections. Citizens may view additional security personnel at protest sites as oppressive, exacerbating tensions between the sides, and fomenting localized unrest.


On March 26-28 avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of polling stations, given the heightened threat of militancy and protests posed to these locations during this time period.

Allot for disruptions and plan alternative routes for travel due to the likely closures of main roads and thoroughfares concurrent with the elections.

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

Avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

In Cairo, maintain heightened vigilance and continue to allot extra time for travel due to possible delays emanating from increased security deployments, checkpoints, and closures throughout the capital.

Remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

Widespread unrest reflects discontent with Rouhani’s economic policies, money spent in regional conflict; protests likely to subside – Iran Analysis

Current Situation

A reported leak of President Rouhani’s proposed government budget last month has triggered a wave of nationwide unrest in Iran which erupted on December 28. The budget leak exposed parts that were generally kept secret, and Iranians discovered that billions of USD were going to the military, hardline organizations, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and religious foundations. At the same time, the budget proposed an end to millions in subsidized and an increase in fuel prices.

Following the leaked budget, Iranians vented their frustration against the money going to the military and clerical establishment via a popular messaging app in Iran used by an estimated half of the country’s 80 million inhabitants.

On December 28, 2017, the hardliners, led by the prominent Ahmad Alamolhoda, started a demonstration in Mashhad, where hundreds shouted slogans against the weak economy and shouted “Death to the Dictator,” and “Death to Rouhani.” Videos of the event spread and triggered protests nationwide in the days that followed, despite attempts by authorities to block access to popular social media and messaging services used to organize and publicize the protests.

On January 2, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded to the unrest stating that the blamed “outside enemies” for the week’s events, without specifying who. President Rouhani, meanwhile, appealed for calm and maintained that the protesters “had the right to be heard.”

At the time of writing, the unrest has reportedly led to at least 450 arrests and 21 deaths.

Widespread unrest reflects discontent with Rouhani’s economic policies, money spent in regional conflict; protests likely to subside - Iran Analysis | MAX Security

 Widespread unrest reflects discontent with Rouhani’s economic policies, money spent in regional conflict; protests likely to subside - Iran Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

The unrest recorded over the past week comes amidst small-scale protests witnessed across Iran over the past months surrounding topics of economy and employment. These include demonstrations of hundreds of oil workers and truck drivers protesting late payment of wages, workers at a large sugar cane plantation and mill complex, bus drivers, teachers, tractor workers in Tabriz against their factory’s closure, Tehran tyre workers at bonuses being delayed, and victims of failed financial institutions across the country. In this context, the leaked budget served as a catalyst for these latest protests, and underscores the frustration and anger among large segments of the population over social-economic problems among the disaffected young people in peripheral, rural areas who have largely driven the demonstrations, in stark contrast to the protests witnessed in 2009 during the so-called “Green Revolution”, which were largely led by the urban middle class.

While the unrest began over economic grievances, it has since taken on a political dimension as demonstrators have voiced anger over corruption and the perceived authoritarian political system as a whole. This is reflected particularly in the anger over Iran’s regional policies and how it spends billions of USD to extend its influence abroad, including in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, despite the high unemployment and economic woes at home, as highlighted by the slogans of “Let go of Syria, think about us” and “I give my life for Iran, not Gaza, not Lebanon”. Moreover, what makes these protests exceptionally notable is the extent of the radical and sometimes slogans used, as some have called for the death of the president and even unprecedented calls of “Death to Khamenei” and calling for the Supreme Leader to step down and demanding the exit of clerics from politics.

FORECAST: We assess that it’s unlikely that the protest movement will survive in the long-term and lead to a collapse of the system for several reasons. First, the fact that it has taken on a political dimension and the use of political slogans has been exploited by the authorities as a justification to crack down on protesters as “anti-social” and violent elements. Moreover, this government approach has been aided by the support protesters have received from abroad, particularly from the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The Iranian authorities already perceive, or at the very least vocalize the perception that the unrest has been manufactured and manipulated by foreign governments. That these foreign governments are openly and publicly supporting the protests will thus only further serve to strengthen this perception and allow the government to increase its crackdowns under the guise of protecting Iran’s sovereignty from the interference of foreign states. With this in mind, should the Iranian authorities decide to implement their forces fully, including the IRGC and the Basij, in repressing the protests, it’s highly likely the demonstrations will be swiftly minimized.

Second, unlike the “Green Revolution” in 2009, these latest protests lack leadership, alternative, and a shared vision. Protesters are united in what they don’t want, rather than what they want, as indicated by the often contradictory slogans. Some want democracy, yet more nostalgic ones praise the former monarchy and the Shah. Demonstrators have called for the death of moderate Rouhani, yet also called for an end to the clerical establishment. Others still are invoking nationalistic ideals and racial slogans, such as “We are Aryans, we don’t worship Arabs.” Overall, given this lack of leadership and organization, the protests are likely to either peter out over time, particularly if the government shows a willingness to make concessions and reforms or will be quelled by an increased crackdown.

That said, we assess that the heightened unrest will continue for longer in the country’s peripheral regions where both civil unrest and militancy stemming from sectarian tensions have long been an issue. These include the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province, a predominantly Arab-populated southwestern Iran, including primarily Khuzestan Province, and the majority-Kurdish-populated northwestern Iranian provinces of Kordestan, West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, and Ilam. Over the past week, we have already witnessed a higher level of unrest and arrests in these areas, as local activists and militant groups are likely seeking to exploit the nationwide discontent to further their own separatist ambitions. Furthermore, the authorities have a history of severely cracking down on these regions, thus making it more likely for escalations between security forces and locals. Over the coming weeks and months, such escalation will likely lock these regions in a vicious cycle of arrests, which subsequently provoke the locals to further unrest and militant attacks, prompting a security crackdown in return.


Business travel to Tehran, Esfahan and other major cities may continue at this time while remaining cognizant of ongoing protests and avoiding the vicinity of such events.

Western nationals are advised to remain cognizant to prevailing negative sentiment toward the United States and other North American and Western European countries.

We advise against all travel to outlying border areas with Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Armenia due to ongoing militant activity.

Those traveling to Iran should anticipate prolonged questioning by customs officials. Refrain from traveling with sophisticated cameras or other features affiliated with journalists. Cooperate with all security officials and respond to questioning in a respectable and calm manner.

Refrain from discussing the current political situation, Iran’s nuclear program, or tensions with the United States and Israel with local residents as a basic precaution. Be advised that authorities may monitor communications from hotels and other facilities frequented by foreigners, while internet access may be limited.

In the event that embassy services are required, it is advised to check the operational status of pertinent embassies and consulates. Consular services for US citizens are provided through the auspices of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.

Guinea: Heightened political tensions between opposition, Conde government expected to persist; potential for renewal of protests

Tensions between Guinean opposition parties and the Conde government have been increasing in the last few days, with the leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), Ousmane Diallo, threatening to resume large scale protests and calling for the suspension of the National Assembly, which has been unable to adopt a single law since reconvening.
  • A letter sent by opposition leaders to Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana, requesting dialogue sessions about respecting an agreement signed on July 3, 2013, which led to the September legislative elections and outlined the rules that would dictate the behavior of both sides, was dismissed on May 2, seventeen days after having been sent. The opposition added that the dialogue would address several issues that have led to a virtual halting of activity at the National Assembly. Fofana stated that the opposition should ensure its goals are met through the National Assembly, thus rejecting the request for dialogue.

    Guinea protest
    Guinea protest
  • Opposition leaders are slated to hold a meeting in the coming days in an effort to determine what options they have left to ensure that these issues be addressed, stating that a resumption of protests is being considered. That said, the leaders added that this option would be the last resort, as it carries the risk of violence. 
  • Aboubacar Sylla, spokesperson of the opposition, announced that political attempts would first be made in an effort to ensure that the government follows through on the July 2013 agreement. This includes proposing the adoption of a law at the National Assembly deeming all parties responsible to fulfill previous legal agreement. Sylla added that the main issues discussed in the letter are the overdue local elections that were originally slated to be held in the first few months of 2014. The ruling government has refuted this demand, saying that the holding of local elections is not part of the July 2013 agreement.
  • Additionally, the opposition criticized the lack of progress in the forming of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), with operators not having received the material needed to begin creating the voters’ lists. An additional issue broached by the opposition includes the alleged lack of legal action against perpetrators of violence targeting opposition supporters and officials.
  • Diallo further accused the leader of the presidential majority, Amadou Damaro Camara, of making decisions in lieu of ministers and the president of the National Assembly. According to the opposition, this puts the National Assembly’s neutrality in question, which counters part of the July 2013 agreement that called for all government bodies to remain neutral and be equally accessible to all parties.
  • Moreover, opposition spokesperson Sylla announced that the international community would be asked to intervene and send mediators, while other government institutions would be used to increase pressure on the ruling party.

Continue reading Guinea: Heightened political tensions between opposition, Conde government expected to persist; potential for renewal of protests

A Slow Death for Morocco’s Reformers

By Daniel N

The exit of an influential Islamist movement coupled with general acceptance of recent elections expedites what has been a slow and painful death for the February 20 reform movement.

On December 19, the Justice and Spirituality Movement (JSM), Morocco’s most influential (outlawed) Islamist group announced it was recinding its support from the February 20 reform movement. Named after the date in which mass protests erupted in Morocco, February 20 has suffered blow after blow to its momentum, limiting its efforts to pressure North Africa’s oldest Monarchy from real reforms.

February 20 activists demonstrate. (Maghrebia) The government has waged a campaign to isolate and de-legitimize the opposition.

In its outset, Morocco’s protest movement succeeded in drawing large numbers of citizens to the streets in cities across the country in what was perceived at the time to be an unstoppable wave of revolution across North Africa. Unlike the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt however, Morocco’s monarchy is a highly respected institution, meaning pressure for reforms was to be limited to a change within the system, not its overthrow.  In response to the protests, the King announced a series of reforms to be decided by referendum, while simultaneously embarking on a campaign to isolate and delegitimize the reform movement.  Using the state-run media, the government sought to portray the February 20 movement as a radical group of communists who had been infiltrated by Islamic extremists who aimed to destabilize the kingdom. Continue reading A Slow Death for Morocco’s Reformers