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Arab Spring curbs visa-free travel for citizens

Visa restrictions for citizens of some Arab states have tightened in the wake of the Arab Spring that spurred violent uprisings across the region, a new report has found. According to Henley & Partners’ Visa Restrictions Index, a global ranking of 194 countries according to the travel freedoms their citizen enjoy, passport holders from parts of the Arab world now need visas to enter more countries.

Citizens of Bahrain, which imposed martial law and called in Gulf troops after widespread anti-regime protests, have visa-free access to 65 countries – two less than in the previous rankings.

Tunisia, the catalyst behind the Arab Spring revolts, saw its ranking fall to 63, while citizens of Egypt can now only enter 41 countries without visas. The lowest-ranked Arab countries were Lebanon and Afghanistan, whose citizens have visa-free access to 33 and 24 countries respectively.

Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said “there is an increase in visa restriction for the region across the board” as a result of violence as a result of the Arab Spring.

“A lot of this is partly due to not pressures from outside countries but from pressures within the countries themselves about who is travelling where and for what,” he said. “It is all security-related and for protection.” The index reflects relationships between individual nations, as well as the status of a country within the international community.

Kuwait ranked top among the Gulf states, with its citizens able to travel freely to 71 countries and territories. The UAE, which has sidestepped the unrest that affected neighbouring Bahrain and Oman, saw its rankings rise on its image as a safe haven. Citizens have visa-free access to 67 states, while those from Qatar can travel freely to 66 states. Saudi Arabia ranked lower, with citizens given open access to 58 states.

Ongoing violence also impacted Libya’s and Syria’s visa scores – citizens can visit just 38 and 37 countries visa-free – but the biggest impact was seen on Pakistan. The Asian country saw its ranking fall five points, placing it in the bottom two. Citizens of the Asian state, which earlier this year was found to be the hiding place of al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, can visit just 31 countries visa-free. Karasik believed Arab states were likely to fall even further down the list in the 2012 rankings as the fallout from the region’s political unrest spurs security concerns. “I think that is a natural process. It is not something to point fingers at, it is a security question about changes in the region,” he said.

Scandinavian countries dominated the top of the rankings with Denmark, Sweden and Finland sharing the top spot on a score of 173.

Germany placed in second, with visa-free access to 172 countries, while the UK, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Belgium and Italy placed third in the rankings.


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