The UAE|Security in Focus|Q3 2020

You can find some of my below topics covered in this months edition of The International Security Journal on page 66 by following the link here.

How has COVID-19 impacted security in the Middle East?

From my recent first-hand experience of managing and supporting a guard force of 400+ on a daily basis on a large high-profile and complex construction site, front line security operatives have truly shown us how they can be diverse and adapt in all environments, now becoming 110% people focused, by not only delivering exceptional security standards and professionalism, but interacting more with contractors, employees and the general public more than ever before, many of which may have not had that much interaction previously, they now must, with the implementation of temperature checks, and well-being checks, guards are now actively taking on additional roles in their line of work outside of their normal duties, which is a fantastic step forwards for this region, for employers, clients and most importantly, the guards themselves, to make them more confident in their line of work and grow as a professional operator.

What are the unique challenges of working as a security professional in the Middle East?

This region is unlike any other, experience is vital, but if you do not have regional experience here at a high-level, specifically as a security manager or security director, it can be tough to navigate, as proven as I have seen many highly experienced operators come and go over the years, they simply cannot manage the complexities, specifically their own egos and inability to adjust and broaden their ways of thinking. Having operated and lived in six continents as a security management professional for 19 years, 10 of which within the UAE, I have never had to deal with complexities and challenges quite like we experience here, that’s why I love the region, the connections I have made, and the challenges I have faced have enabled me to become a far better operator, and most importantly a person. Many security professionals I have encountered here are unable to digest the way things are done, and why things need to be done in a certain way, balancing the need for exceptional communication skills, professionalism, diplomacy and need to adapt their thinking, etiquette, corporate understanding and cultural awareness and most importantly, respect, all at once is a skill set many do not have.

What are the biggest security threats in the region?

In the surrounding regions tensions remain high and it is clear that these groups, who thrive from instability and chaos, will continue to do so in this current climate. Iraq is of a particular concern as it struggles to form a government after the appointment of a third prime minister and as oil prices, its main source of income, has collapsed due to COVID-19. The worsening conditions in Pakistan brought on by COVID-19 are causing an increase in terrorism and criminal activity within this country. Pakistani-based terrorist groups are currently approaching people who have been affected by COVID-19 whilst offering to provide essential services and assistance to these individuals.

In return, they gain the loyalty of local populations and access to a new pool of recruits for their efforts to set up an Islamist government in the contested territory of Kashmir. The efforts by terrorist groups have led to an increase in the number of terrorist training camps in this region. In Turkey for example, Islamic State recruiters are targeting migrants from Turkmenistan who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The Islamic State frequently recruits unemployed and disillusioned individuals to join its efforts to create an independent state dedicated to the teachings of its extremist brand of Sunni Islam.

Terrorist and organised crime groups have shown this tactic before, but now that more and more people are suffering financial hardships due to lack of employment, these tactics are likely to become more effective for such groups, however not within the UAE, but surrounding countries. Within the UAE and in regards of criminal activity, we have seen UAE authorities capture major players in the criminal underworld recently, from a mastermind of a Dh1.6 billion money laundering, cyber scam, to two drug traffickers from Australia accused of smuggling $150m worth of narcotics, both hiding out in the country.

Which vertical markets have the best growth opportunities for security providers?

It is clear that the event industry is very slowly taking shape, as mentioned before, we are along way off a capacity standing concert, we are more likely to see a seated concert first with social distancing in place, however capturing headline artists to perform to a smaller crowd is complex and is unlikely to occur anytime soon until capacities can be increased and the economy recovers to enable people to attend concerts at a premium cost, remembering someone needs to pay big money to secure an artist and money is then recovered by ticket sales and F&B sales in many cases.

I believe the UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi has now paved the way for what we will see more of in the future in the region, closed door events, primarily high-profile sports, generating PPV sales, rather than physical ticket sales. This is great for security companies who specialise in this niche market and although manpower might be reduced in a few cases, due to minimal spectator numbers, we can expect to see security operatives continuing ‘’bolt on’’ duties such as welfare checks at screening locations, in turn increasing guard force numbers to also ensure social distancing measures.

For those providing security services within the retail sector I do not see this decreasing, only increasing as we see more people heading into indoor air-conditioned malls due to the temperatures outside. Executive Protection or Protective Security Support in the region will still be slow, due to fewer corporate's travelling, not only due to CV19 but budgetary constraints affecting us all. One market I do see prospering is corporate security services, such as security concierges within offices and corporate companies looking for a CV19 Manager, which is likely to be a dual hatted role such as a HSE/Security Manager, ensuring the well-being of office staff who return to work for the first time.