Egypt Gets Ready for AFCON 2019 by Increasing Security
With the African Cup of Nations 2019 kicking off mere days after former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s death, many are concerned about the security situation in the region. Egypt, given its politically unstable environment and its highly concentrated big sporting event of the year, is a considerably risky place to be in right now. In this blog, we will go over why crowded places are an attractive target for terrorists and insurgency groups. We will then highlight the security challenges in Egypt resulting from the Africa Cup of Nations before ending with our recommendations.
Why are Crowded Places a Target?
Crowded places have historically been easy and effective targets for politically motivated violence from different groups. From the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics attack to the 2002 Bali bombings, crowded spaces are an attractive preference for such attacks. However, this is not an old occurrence. Attacks such as the 2016 Berlin Christmas market and 2017 Manchester arena attacks show that crowded places will continue to be glorified in terrorist agendas and even viewed as worthy of imitation. Most recently is the Tunis attack, where seven Egyptian policemen were killed. The attack was claimed by the ISIL armed group in restive North Sinai. It’s not so much the location as it is the high volume, concentration of large crowds and international media coverage that makes it attractive to send a message. Having said that, there is a range of factors that can shape terrorist target selection:
- Large Crowds: Large groups of peoples, especially when they are concentrated, allow for mass casualties
- Psychological Effects: Attacks focused on a crowded space can leave psychological effects, especially for those who regularly visit crowded places in their day to day lives
- Accessibility: Crowded places are known for being open and accessible, which makes it less challenging when it comes to logistical planning
- Symbolic Value: Some crowded places are known for carrying high symbolic value such as the recent New Zealand shooting. The symbol could be a representation of religion, country, government or culture
- Economic Effects: An attack on a crowded place will most likely have effects on the surrounding businesses and infrastructure. It would also affect tourism. This was the case in Lebanon and Egypt, which suffered greatly as a result. This, in-turn, would increase the risk for significant longer-term economic damage.
- High Coverage: Large crowds mean there are more witnesses, which increases the attacker’s resonance. Moreover, social media is usually quickly spread via images and live footage, as was the case in the New Zealand Mass shooting. Lastly, a crowded place will attract more global media coverage, which is usually the attacker’s main objective.
Related: New Zealand Shooting Aftermath
Security Measures & Challenges in Egypt
Egypt has taken on the biggest sporting event of the year by increasing its security measures. A vast security operation welcomed tens of thousands of fans in Cairo ahead of the opening match in the African Cup of Nations on Friday, June 21st. The tournament kicked off amidst terror attacks and just mere days after the death of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
There is a total of 15,000 security personnel extensively involved throughout the competition, spanning four host cities (Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Ismailia). Security forces are covering the six stadiums in use throughout the sporting event. Extra checkpoints are placed on the roads leading to the venues which will add to the already congested traffic. Moreover, the government has set up electronic gates in the entrances. New routes and transport lines were built to facilitate movement to and from the arenas.
Additionally, many checkpoints are currently stationed around the perimeter of the venue and drones are scheduled to circulate the stadium to take pictures of fans. These pictures will be transferred to the relevant security authorities to match them with the FAN ID database. A system is in place to track every fan from the moment they set foot into the stadium until they leave through the exit doors.
The 2019 AFCON marks the first event Egypt has hosted since former president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown by mass protests in 2011. Since then, Egypt has been undergoing political, security and economic instability. Egypt has seen a spike in terror attacks targeting its Christian minority and security forces. In 2013, the military overthrew Morsi just two years after the disposal of Mubarak.
In 2012, riots and violent clashes with the police resulted in the death of 72 Al-Ahly football fans. Consequently, football attendance was banned and security measures were increased. The ban was to be lifted in 2015, but a stampede at the 30 June Stadium killed 22 Zamalek football fans, resulting in the re-imposition of the ban. With that said, Egypt has been in a state of emergency since April 2017, after the attacks on the Coptic St. Mark’s Cathedral in Tanta city, resulting in 45 dead.
The state of emergency was renewed on April of this year, 2019, for the eighth time. In September of 2018, limited attendance has been allowed but hardcore fans were still banned from entering the stadiums. With heavily armed personnel and armoured vehicles on the ground, fans for the curtain-raiser between Egypt and Zimbabwe were granted some access. However, similar to standard airport procedures, the fans were advised to arrive three hours prior to kick off time. Access was denied after 6:30 PM, which was the cut-off time.
With the high number of football fans coming from diverse backgrounds, militant groups such as IS Sinai Province may see this as an opportunity to target and attack. This would be detrimental to Egypt’s economy as Cairo is currently struggling to maintain a stable position in the African continent and attract foreign investment.
The increase in the number of participating teams from 16 to 24 poses another risk as state security try to ensure timely protection during accommodation, transport and public appearances of the football teams.
Security authorities are responding by staying on high alert, especially following attacks on tourists near the pyramids and an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. A bombing near the pyramids wounded 17 people in May 2019. This happened just mere months after a similar attack killed 3 Vietnamese travelers and an Egyptian tour guide in December. The attack was not claimed by any militant group or organization.
With that said, militant groups in Egypt are known for primarily targeting security and military personnel and infrastructure. However, the recent attacks on tourists indicate that militant groups are increasingly trying to sabotage the state’s attempt at establishing stability and attracting tourism as well as foreign investment.
As of now, there aren’t any direct threats that have been issued by any militant groups revolved around the 2019 AFCON.
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With the AFCON 2019 taking place in a volatile country like Egypt, staying safe is a priority. Below is a list of our recommendations if you or someone you know is traveling to Egypt at this time.
- Plan trips ahead to avoid congested traffic due to football games
- Carry your passport with you at all times
- Expect longer waiting times at security checks including airports, railway stations and border crossings
- Avoid wearing clothing with flags, political symbols or local football jerseys
- For air travelers, try to arrive at the airport three hours prior to the flight to avoid any delays due to the heavy congestion and traffic
- Arrive early. Allow enough time for traffic, parking, searches and screening
- Stay alert and be attentive to any abnormal changes in people’s behavior. Assess your surrounding environment and mark the nearest exist in the case of an evacuation
- Cooperate with authorities in the event of a vehicle inspection, bag search or additional screening
- Keep your belongings close to you at all times
- Don’t store your wallet or mobile phone in your back pocket. Instead, carry them in your front pocket or in a secure bag
- Mark your belongings with your name and phone number
- If you’re paying for something or using a cash machine, only take your wallet out and make sure you don't flash your cash around. The same applies for your mobile phone.
- If you listen to music while traveling, keep the volume low enough to hear what’s going on around you
- Subscribe to RedCrow’s app to get real-time security alerts of important incidents happening in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. Get it on Google Play or the App Store.
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