Letter from the Middle East (April 2011)

Like so many across the Middle East, Sydney Fernandes hasn’t slept soundly in a good couple of months. A senior manager at Kuwait-based logistics giant Agility, the Indian was on constant call when violent unrest gripped Egypt, finally toppling its leader after three decades of dictatorship. Today he is first contact for Agility’s Tripoli office, shuttered by its 26 staff as they try to ride out the death rattle of another totalitarian regime.

‘We all fear for their safety, and we’ve heard hardly anything since the conflict began,’ Fernandes says. ‘E-mails have mostly been down, and communication has been very sporadic.

‘We’ve been pursuing humanitarian channels and talking to non-governmental organisations, but on our own all we can do is make sure our people stay at home. If the UN, the US and some of Libya’s neighbours have been unable to stop the violence, then what can one company do?’

Fernandes is as well placed as anyone to assess the toll taken on Middle East trade by the widespread bloodshed of 2011. Agility employs more than 8,000 staff across 14 different countries in the Middle East and Africa, and has offices in other trouble spots including Tunisia, Bahrain and Oman. And it has watched helplessly as a series of springtime revolutions have swept from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and even the Arabian Gulf; violence erupting in countries that had been presumed politically stable. Read more

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