“Give us water or we will take you down” was the unceremonious welcoming General Aziz got today in Magta Lahjar (Brakna Province.) What was supposed to be another on-demand carnival tour of the Brakna province by Aziz’s loyalists, ended up with the strongman reduced to delivering a short speech on top of a car amidst “we want water” chants.
Magta Lahjar, like other towns in the country, saw a rash of protests over the government’s failure to provide drinking water, or basic services. For instance, Aziz was greeted with a wave of protests in Aleg (Brakna’s capital) culminating in arrests and beatings of the youth, many of them members of the UFP and Tawassul opposition parties.
The scene as reported in local media was one of an ambush quickly escalating into a classic street fight: protesters infiltrated the security ring pretending to be loyalists, then broke out in chants while fighting off the police’s attempts to flush them out.
Earlier this week, the authorities violently suppressed a February 25 youth protest in the capital Nouakchott, and a university student demonstration. Today, pro-regime thugs attacked opposition events in the northern cities of Atar (Adrar), and loyalists tried to sabotage an opposition event in the mining town of Zoueirate (Tiris Zemmour.) These attempts to interfere in opposition activities by regime loyalists are yet another warning sign that the crisis is rapidly escalating.
Overall, these events may not stand out in comparison to scenes from Mohamed Mahmoud street in Cairo, or even Sanabis in Bahrain. However, in a nation of 3.8 Million, they are unprecedented. This trend is an entirely new phenomenon far surpassing the Kadihine (Maoists) golden age of street protests in the 70’s.
Far from being ephemeral, General Aziz is increasingly facing a comprehensive protest movement led by an emboldened opposition, and a population driven by the instinct of survival to demand urgent solutions to their most basic needs. Just to further complicate things for Mauritania’s ruler, the opposition is mobilizing for mass demonstrations on the second of May. Aziz will need more than water to put out these fires as he potentially faces either a generalized popular uprising, a coup d’etat, or both.
In Mauritania today, the equation is no longer democracy versus dictatorship, but rather water versus droughts.