The travel ban that was one of the first challenges facing the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region in 2017 has seen much action within the short time that it had been announced on January 27 2017. Even as the ban has met with worldwide opposition, a rare coordinated effort against the ban has come from the technology sector.
More than around 127 tech companies that include the likes of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Netflix, Uber and others filed a legal “friend-of-the-court” brief on February 5 2017, opposing the travel ban on the seven markets from the MENA region, levied via an executive order by US President Donald Trump. The ban itself was subsequently suspended temporarily by a federal judge, which led to travel resuming in the US and bringing relief to thousands of stranded travelers.
This move from the tech giants not only represents an unusual coming together of the industry but reiterates the nonacceptance towards the travel ban overall. Companies backing the filing also included Pinterest, Yelp, Square, Reddit, Kickstarter, GitHub, Glassdoor, Box, Mozilla, Dropbox, Twilio, Zynga, Medium, Pinterest, Salesforce and Lyft, most of which have supported the cause of diversity and equality.
The companies stated in the brief, filed with the US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, that the travel ban would give them strong incentives to move jobs outside the United States. They argued that the executive order temporarily banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees “inflicts significant harm on American business” and called the move “discriminatory”.
The brief not only raised concern on how the travel ban represents a “significant departure from the principles of fairness and predictability that have governed the immigration system of the United States for more than 50 years” but reiterated that it would make it “difficult and expensive for US companies to recruit, hire and retain some of the world’s best employees and disrupts ongoing business operations”.
For industry leaders in the key markets of the region, the ban had attracted mixed reactions. The first was a definite cause of concern as it indicated how a region such as the US was viewing the Middle East and how this would not only impact the investment in the region but also weaken any hope of revival of markets such as Iran, which was one of the seven markets that the travel ban applied to. The second was a wait and watch, a route taken by the more optimistic who focused on the ‘temporary’ part of the initial ban.
In either scenario, anxiety, irrespective of the degree, was implicit. As the travel ban is opposed, and the tech companies reiterate the increasingly important role that they are playing in not just the everyday lives of people but in shaping the corporate world as well, not all questions and fears are answered or rested. This subject is still going to be an area of concern for the year, adding to a long list of challenges for MENA in 2017. But as the industry’s veterans, and The Arabian Marketer, keep reiterating, MENA is nothing if not resilient.