Cut from Whole Cloth
July 30, 2019Four members of a ship’s crew were arrested and imprisoned earlier this year when inspectors at Egypt’s Damietta port discovered 140 pounds of illicit goods smuggled from Croatia. The contraband wasn’t drugs or weapons, but large rolls of camouflage-patterned fabric.
Middle Eastern governments are struggling to combat purchases of military uniforms by malign actors attempting to impersonate soldiers. This challenge partly stems from a lack of effective security checks and codes of conduct that leave some installations vulnerable to attack. These practices include ID scanning and the enforcement of strict dress codes for the military—measures that prevent this same phenomenon from taking root in the United States.
In Egypt and Iraq, terrorists disguise themselves in army fatigues to get closer to poorly-guarded military targets and to stage ambushes from fake roadside checkpoints. Repeated instances of such attacks prompted Egypt’s armed forces to demand that textile companies stop manufacturing and selling fabrics resembling those used by the military. Now, only designated companies are allowed to produce the army’s uniforms.
Yemen’s government has issued similar warnings about the illicit sale of military garb. The country now has the added challenge of multiple militaries—and multiple uniforms. On two recent occasions, government officials accused Houthi-aligned forces of donning the national coast guard’s attire in an attempt to stage a handover of Hodeida port.
The misuse of military uniforms highlights a systemic problem of weak security throughout the Middle East, which decrees and penalties may not be enough to solve. For some countries, a lack of protocol means that even a piece of cloth poses a threat.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.