On January 6, the State Department issued a new Travel Alert advising U.S. citizens of the risks of travelling to Egypt due to continuing unrest. The ordered departure of US Embassy Cairo and USCG Alexandria staff have now been lifted but the personnel for the constituent post is still operating out of Cairo pending security upgrades in Alexandria.
The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the risks of travelling to Egypt due to the continuing political and social unrest. This Travel Alert supersedes the Travel Alert issued on December 18, 2013, and will expire on March 16, 2014.
Based on an assessment of the security situation in Egypt, the Department of State lifted the ordered departure status for U.S. Embassy personnel on November 6, 2013. The State Department lifted ordered departure status for U.S. Consulate General Alexandria on December 16, 2013. However, Consulate General personnel will be based out of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo while required facility security upgrades are made.
Political unrest, which intensified after the July 2013 change of government, is likely to continue in the near future. Demonstrations have on numerous occasions resulted in violent clashes between security forces and protesters and between protesters supporting different factions, some of which have resulted on occasion in deaths and injuries to those involved, and property damage. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. Of continued concern is gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the targets of sexual assault. There have been instances of the use of firearms as well. Most violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including Cairo and its suburbs, Alexandria, and Port Said.
The security situation in North Sinai, including the major east-west coastal highway and the towns of El Arish, Shaykh Zuwayd, El Gorah and Rafah, has been marked by ongoing violent attacks on Egyptian security personnel and by continuing and frequently intense security operations against the sources of violence. The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid travel to North Sinai.
The security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, the Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise routes, and Red Sea/Southern and Western Sinai resorts such as Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh, Dahhab, Nuweiba, and Taba has been calm; U.S. citizens should remain alert to local security developments.
The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse.
On the same day, the US Embassy in Cairo issued an Emergency Message with security updates for Coptic Christmas, observed today, the 7th day of January. It recommended that “U.S. citizens remain vigilant, particularly if visiting Coptic churches over the next 48 hours. If there are signs or indications that a problem exists or is developing the best course of action is to leave the area.”
On June 28, the State Department announced the authorized departure of “a limited number” of non-emergency USG personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing unrest. Since we’re now in the summer season and school is out, hopefully a good number of family members have already left the country. The Travel Alert dated May 15, 2013 has now been replaced with a Travel Warning that U.S. citizens defer travel to Egypt at this time.
The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Egypt to defer non-essential travel to Egypt at this time due to the continuing possibility of political and social unrest. On June 28, 2013, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency employees and family members. U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Alert issued for Egypt dated May 15, 2013.
On June 28, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing political and social unrest.
Political unrest, which intensified prior to the constitutional referendum in December 2012 and the anniversary in 2013 of Egypt’s 25th January Revolution, is likely to continue in the near future due to unrest focused on the first anniversary of the President’s assumption of office. Demonstrations have, on occasion, degenerated into violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. There are numerous reports of the use of firearms as well. While violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including downtown Cairo, Alexandria, and Port Said, the security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, and Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh, continues to be calm. Of specific concern is a rise in gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the specific targets of sexual assault.
In related news, Ahram Online is reporting that a 21-year old American has become a second casualty amidst clashes in Alexandria. The report citing Amin Ezz El-Din, head of Alexandria’s security directorate said that the young American had been taking pictures with his mobile phone near one of the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which President Morsi hails, when he was stabbed to death. Neither the US Embassy Cairo or USCG Alexandria has confirmed the death. Then there’s this side story from McClatchy Newspapers’ Middle East Bureau chief:
Update @ 10:04 pm PST: The American killed in Alexandria has been identified by Kenyon College as Andrew Pochter. Pochter, 21, of Chevy Chase, Md., died during clashes between opponents and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi. He was an intern at AMIDEAST, an American non-profit organization engaged in international education, training and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa. There is troubling report that the victim was asked if he was an American prior to stabbing. If true, this would be the second incident in a few weeks that appears directed at U.S. citizens. Until May 9th this year, security advisories from the embassy were still saying that “in general, anti-American sentiment is not directed at individual U.S. citizens in Egypt.”
The ongoing protests leading up to the mega-protest organized for June 30 while directed at President Morsi and his party are taking on an increasingly anti-American tenor.
The Tamarod (Rebel) Campaign collecting signatures for an early presidential electionhas listed its reasons online including one why it rejects its sitting president: “We reject you… Because Egypt is still following the footsteps of the USA.” More about the Tamarod campaign here.
The protesters are saying it with banners, too; all posted on Twitter and cc’ed to @USEmbassyCairo. The banners are made with specific messages; as well, there are photos circulating of the U.S. ambassador’s photos spray painted with red X marks. That looks like a lot of anger just waiting to burst …
Meanwhile, CNN’s Barbara Starr said that U.S. Marines stationed in southern Europe have been put on alert as a precaution in advance of expected large demonstrations and potential unrest in Egypt this weekend:
About 200 combat capable Marines in Sigonella, Italy, and Moron, Spain, have been told to be ready to be airborne within 60 minutes of getting orders to deploy, according to two administration officials.
The units have several V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that would carry troops and infantry weapons to Egypt to protect the U.S. Embassy and American government personnel and citizens if violence broke out against Americans.
The officials both emphasized this is contingency planning in advance of the expected demonstrations to ensure American military assets, including rescue forces, can act if needed. In the event Americans had to be evacuated from Egypt and could not get to the airport due to the unrest, there are about 2,000 additional Marines on board three Navy warships in the Red Sea, officials said.
A third official said the decision to keep the warship in the Red Sea was “very precautionary.”
The US Embassy in Cairo issued its Security Message to U.S. Citizens No. 48 indicating that the embassy will be closed on Sunday June 30th, set as the date for a national anti-Morsi, anti Muslim Brotherhood protests in Egypt. While the embassy did not actually say “be prepared to shelter in place,” it notes that the situation is “particularly unpredictable” and folks need to “possess the necessary items should it be necessary to remain at home for an extended period.” Below is an excerpt from the security message:
In anticipation of demonstrations that may turn violent, the U.S. Embassy will be closed to the public on June 30th. The U.S. Embassy will continue monitor conditions and announce decisions regarding its operating status.
As potentially violent protest activity may occur before June 30th, U.S. citizens are advised to maintain a low profile and restrict movement to the immediate area of their residences and neighborhoods starting on June 28. U.S. citizens should monitor announcements from the U.S. Embassy and local media in order to stay current with the situation. As the security situation is particularly unpredictable, please ensure you possess the necessary items should it be necessary to remain at home for an extended period.
Due to a report that opposition groups plan to solicit signatures at sixteen Cairo Metro stations on the morning of June 25, the U.S. Embassy is advising its personnel to utilize other transportation means. Though violence is not expected in connection with soliciting signatures, it is possible that confrontations between individuals involved and opposing groups could become violent.
Meanwhile, @USEmbassyCairo can’t seem to catch a break after Ambassador Anne Patterson’s recent outreach events suffered an online backlash not just on Twitter but also on the embassy’s FB page. Some pretty nasty stuff there.
On the June 30 closure, one Twitter user tweets, “Everybody is officially freaking out.”
State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the US Embassy in Bangui, a 15% danger pay post, as well as a 35% COLA and 35% hardship differential pay assignment. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 10 and 28, 2012, and in Bangui, the Central African Republic, between November 5 and 12, 2012.
The diplomatic mission is headed by Ambassador Laurence D. Wohlers, a career diplomat. The deputy chief of mission is Brennan M. Gilmore. The embassy temporarily suspended operations on December 28, 2012, as a result of the security situation in the country. We’ve blogged about it here.
Here are the key findings from the OIG report:
The Department of State’s (Department) inability to staff Embassy Bangui adequately has prevented it from functioning as an effective mission.
Embassy Bangui, a 15-percent danger pay post, faces numerous threats
If the Department cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified or find another way to maintain diplomatic representation in the Central African Republic, such as regional accreditation from a nearby embassy.
Post leadership has not developed a sense of team and unity of purpose.
Embassy reporting is excellent and appreciated by Washington consumers.
Embassy Bangui is unable to provide sufficient administrative support in house and would benefit from more support from larger embassies in the region.
Information systems security and management is inadequate. There is no U.S. direct-hire information management employee at the embassy, and temporary support does not provide sufficient oversight.
Quick background of US Embassy Bangui via the OIG report:
The United States has had diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic since its independence from France in 1960. The U.S. embassy in Bangui was closed in 1997 and again in 2002 in response to political and physical insecurity. The embassy reopened in 2005, and a resident U.S. Ambassador was appointed in 2007.
Embassy Bangui is staffed by 7 U.S. direct hires, 2 local-hire Americans, and 35 locally employed (LE) staff members. One temporary liaison officer from the U.S. Army’s Africa Command represents the only other agency at the mission. The embassy’s total funding is $3.6 million. OIG conducted a management assessment review in 2004. At that time the American staff had been evacuated and only the LE staff was present.
Front Office Report Card:
The OIG report also details some of the Front Office shortcomings, primarily on leadership, morale and communication issues. No mention on how well or how badly the senior leadership did in their OIG questionnaires. Excerpt below from the IG report:
The Ambassador arrived in September 2010 and the deputy chief of mission (DCM) in July 2011. They constitute a team that is particularly strong in outreach and reporting and have successfully weathered a series of management challenges. They are not as successful when it comes to leadership and morale.
Despite the embassy’s small size, executive direction is more hierarchical than collegial. A weekly country team meeting provides the Ambassador an opportunity to inform the team on his recent contacts with senior government officials. The communication from the country team to the Ambassador is not as effective. Notwithstanding weekly, topical staff meetings and monthly town hall gatherings with LE staff, some of the American and LE staff members feel distanced from the front office.
The DCM has broad executive responsibilities. He supervises the reporting agenda assigned to the first-tour political/economic/consular officer. The officer meets weekly with the DCM and usually the Ambassador as well. The DCM is responsible primarily for military affairs, which include the U.S. Special Forces deployment to the eastern Central African Republic and a rotational U.S. Africa Command liaison officer position.
The Ambassador has been effective in his dealings outside the chancery but less so in leading and inspiring his team. In addition, the DCM is overextended. At a mission where security-imposed restrictions on mobility, a tropical climate, daunting health challenges, and a dearth of entertainment test morale in the best of circumstances, the front office has attempted to build better morale. Despite the planning activities discussed earlier, the staff has a poor sense of Embassy Bangui’s place in the larger U.S. diplomatic agenda in Africa and asserts that it is inadequately supported. The OIG team counseled post management to look for more ways to better connect with their employees.
16 TDYs in 20 Months and Other Management Challenges, Holy Smokes!
The embassy’s management challenges, however, are not being fully met. The embassy struggled to overhaul its operations after reopening, including doubling its U.S. direct-hire staff, and a major restructuring of LE staffing—all in the absence of a permanent management officer. Excessive dependence on temporary duty support (about 10 temporary duty personnel a month in the past year) has compromised effective use of embassy resources and increased the cost of operating the embassy. Another issue is the Department’s increasing dependence on automated management systems that impose a bureaucratic overhead on small posts with inexperienced staff.
Embassy Bangui is too small to have functional depth or to benefit from economies of scale. There are too few people trying to do too much. The U.S. direct-hire staff consists of one management officer and one entry-level general services officer. Because the embassy has been chronically unable to recruit an at-grade, in-cone management officer, there is no permanent U.S. direct-hire management experience at the embassy. The current entry-level general services officer worked under 16 temporary duty management officers in 20 months.
Post was shuttered in 1997, again in 2002 and once more in 2012. Not sure how many times it had been evacuated, but presumably at least three times as the evacuations typically precedes post closure. If history is a predictor, the embassy will potentially reopen in 1-3 years and after a brief interval, closes again. We agree with the IG that if the State Dept cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified. And if it decides that the risks are justified despite post’s many shortcomings, then you want that in writing from the accountable officials. So if something bad happens, we’d know that a lowly deputy assistant secretary did not go rogue and we won’t need to pick up the flattened DASes thrown under the buses after multiple congressional hearings.
In any case, we noticed that the IG inspectors seem to massaged its report with phrases such as ” not as successful” or “less [effective] … in leading and inspiring his team” or is “more hierarchical than collegial.” That’s sorta like giving you a tall glass of juice to take with an almost bitter pill.
Look, this is a tiny mission with 7 direct hire American employees (an ideal team composition by the way), and a total staff of no more than 50. Sometimes working at a small post can really pull people together. At other times, it can make it seem like a 24/7, 365 days a year root canal – you just want to be numb with Novacaine and get out of there. For now, they’re all out of there except for the local employees. But — can you imagine if you were an entry level officer working for 16 management officers on TDY in a span of 20 months?
While this OIG report highlighted US Embassy Bangui’s Front Office’s less than ideal leadership, morale and communication at post, we should note that the embassy is not alone.
We’ve been hearing for a while now that US Embassy Cairo is suffering from “abysmal morale.” A recent posting on the Secretary’s Sounding Board regarding its 15% hardship diffential is just one part of it. (Apparently it has been at 15% for 15 years and State sat on Cairo’s differential update request for six months. Despite changing conditions in Egypt, State reportedly refused the request with no explanation). But see – folks normally do not refer to their morale as “abysmal” also known as “appalling” or “extremely bad” if it only has to do with the differential. Don’t forget the human. Plenty of unhappy people there, the differential is one reason; there are reportedly many more.
The thing that should give State’s Seventh Floors some pause is — Embassy Bangui has 7 U.S.direct hire. Embassy Cairo’s staffing is 68X that of Bangui’s, with 476 U.S. direct hire and a total staff of 1,874 (at least according to the 2009 OIG staffing numbers).
Perhaps it’s time for the OIG to pay another visit to the land of pharaohs? The last OIG inspection was in 2009. With upheaval in the host country in the last two years and significantly changing conditions at post, we think Cairo deserves a visit, don’t you? Oh, and please do keep a close eye on USCG Alexandria.
“U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presided over a ceremony to re-open the U.S. Consulate General Alexandria on July 15, 2012. The Consulate General provides consular services for American citizens, commercial and political parnership opportunities, cultural and educational programming, and military coordination within the […] eight governorates in Egypt’s North Coast and Delta region.”
Via USCG Alexandria/FB
American Center Alexandria has this announcement:
On July 15, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over a flag raising ceremony to upgrade the American Center Alexandria to U.S. Consulate General. We will be closing this Facebook page, so please join our new page at: http://www.facebook.com/alexandria.usconsulate.
Of course, a new consulate general also gets a new consul general. Below via USCG Alexandria:
E. Candace Putnam became Director of the American Presence Post in Alexandria, Egypt, in January of 2012. She was appointed Consul General after the upgrade of the American Presence Post to a U.S. Consulate General in July 2012.
A career U.S. Foreign Service Officer, her most recent postings include serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Beirut, the Cyrus Vance Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Consul General in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Political Counselor in Islamabad, Pakistan.