Mauritania’s Society on the Mali War: Niet!!

17 01 2013
Le radeau de la meduse

Le Radeau de la Méduse – Théodore Géricault

“Fortune, which has a great deal of power in other matters but especially in war, can bring about great changes in a situation through very slight forces.”

Julius Caesar 

Mauritanian public opinion remains dead set against their country’s involvement in Mali. Across the political and social spectrum, not a single meaningful voice called for Mauritania to intervene militarily. Worse, Mauritanian Salafis implicitly endorsed the Jihadis in Mali with an incendiary fatwa. Thus, it is no longer possible to present the Malian war as a foreign matter, it has become an internal political battle. Despite all of this, The “president” General Aziz unilaterally put the country on the path to war.

In the best tradition of a tribal chief, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz made a potentially fateful decision in a meeting with his French counterpart.  He told the Gauls’ chief François Hollande, that should the chief of the Malians ask for his help, he shall oblige. So is the mindset governing the country’s destiny. This should be a cause for serious concern for anyone contemplating a Mauritanian entry in the conflict.

General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz’s meeting on Tuesday with François Hollande in Abu Dhabi shook the country’s political class out of its wait-and-see posture. Till that point, only the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood had declared -unsurprisingly- its vehement opposition to what it calls “the French invasion” of Mali.

As customary with General Aziz, he did not bother issuing any communiqués about the substance of his meeting with the French president. He even excluded his press adviser from the meeting altogether. Mauritanian state media reported the meeting as a routine discussion.  It was rather François Hollande who dropped the bombshell during this own press conference: “Mauritania is ready to take its responsibilities vis-à-vis the terrorist threat should the Malian state issue such a request.”

This 180-degree turn of positioning is symptomatic of the man’s style. After multiple public reassurances that he will not enter a war in Mali, he still went ahead and committed to enter the war once it broke out in spite of his own public opinion’s vehement objections to the move. What is his plan to deal with any fallout from his decision? That too will be improvised.

As predicted, the domestic response was swift:  all relevant opposition parties in Mauritania rejected wholesale the ongoing war in Mali. Not all of these were knee-jerk. The main opposition party, the RFD sought active measures from all political players to prevent the involvement of the army in the war. The second most important opposition, the UFP, took a softer line by supporting efforts to preserve Mali’s unity while rejecting Mauritania’s entry into the war.

More interestingly, even General Aziz’s own party barons complete silence speaks volumes about the anxiety levels in Mauritania about the Azawad war. One exception was Influential MP Sidi Ould Maham, and head of the regulatory Supreme Justice Court. He rejected the French intervention in Mali on the grounds that “Mauritania and Mali are the same country.” He must have meant to say: “the Mauritanian and Malian people are one.” ُThe most dangerous development so far came from Mauritania’s politically irrelevant Salafis. They did not miss this golden opportunity to make a stand. 39 figures signed a joint public declaration/Fatwa prohibiting and declaring anyone who assists in this war an apostate. This should be an alarm bell to any reasonable observer. Citing the Wala’ wa Albara’ doctrine is an implicit call to jihad. Even more alarming, is that one of the signatories is none other than Al-Majlissi– the allegedly repentant Mufti of Salafi Jihad.

Otherwise, it was refreshing to see condemnations of the Salafi fatwa come speedily and that they were widespread. Many columnists took them on immediately after the statement’s publication. The backlash seems to be working as one of the signatories already backed down from it.

All of these developments have in effect reframed the ongoing war in Azawad into an internal political wedge point. However, this is not merely partisan politics. It’s a deep anxiety about unleashing demons that could shake Mauritania to the core. Unfortunately, no one in Mauritanian society has taken the reasoning against the war to its honest intellectual conclusion. How come so many Mauritanian citizens are waging Jihad next door?

Maybe the answer is t0o unsettling for Mauritanians to contemplate, but it remains a question that must be addressed for the sake of the country’s peace, stability and prosperity. That would be the best help Mauritania’s foreign partners can provide: push for answers, and quickly.





Mauritania Water Uprising?

17 04 2012
Image

"Rest assured, it's either water or confrontation"
photo credit: Al-Akhbar.info

“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.

Magta Lahjar’s protesters did not fair any better today; over 30 remain under lock. some were preemptively arrested earlier in the day after anti-regime slogans appeared on walls in the town.

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.





#Mauritania Opposition 43-page Rebuttal to General Aziz

18 03 2012

Mauritania’s opposition: National Unity Government, Now!

 

 

Mauritania’s Democratic Opposition Coordination Committee, a coalition of parties allied against General Aziz’s rule, issued on Thursday a 43-page document detailing the current regime’s failures across the spectrum. This document should be read, and viewed, on the basis that represents the views of the biggest factions of the country’s opposition. it provides fresh insights into the thinking of Mauritania’s super politicos on a host of issues, and the hierarchy of problems the country faces from their perspectives.

The authors summed up their views of Mauritania’s dire straits in the on the document’s first page: Political deadlock, institutional crisis, collapse of the Mauritanian State, impoverished citizens, rampant corruption, systematic pillaging of the country’s natural resources, military adventures, and diplomatic incoherence.

The information contained in the document is not new per se, what is new is that the opposition is demanding a national unity government and elections to remedy the unconstitutional parliament that lapsed back in November 2011. Additionally, the last chapter of the document (page 36) has a detailed discussion of the the fact that Mauritania’s institutions today are outside of constitutional legality. A fact, that very few outside observers have either picked on, commented, or even acknowledged.

That constitutional void has consequences beyond the internal political power struggle. For example, It would be worth pointing out to foreign investors that their recent agreements with Aziz are null and void– particularly mining companies that signed any deals with the current government after May 2011.

This is good news to Mauritanians because the current regime had previously signed egregious, and blatantly exploitative deals with foreign companies like Kinross Gold Corporation. That agreement leaves Mauritania with only %4 of the total proceeds of proven reserve of 7.46 Million Ounces of the Tasiast mine. This kind of deals is what is ultimately running the country to the ground by creating a Congo-like formula: Rich Country, Poor People.

It also would be very hard to argue that such deals are corruption-free. Conversely, the problem is that no one is scrutinizing any of these companies’ dealings in Mauritania.

In the final analysis, the facts about Mauritania’s reality speak for themselves: %69 of women, and %51 of youth between 18-24 are unemployed. This is a recipe for a disaster in the making if there are not political solutions to the current crisis.





#Mauritania: General Aziz’s image problem

14 03 2012
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Taqadoumy.com cartoon

Mauritania’s strongman was today in Nouadhibou to put on his own long-planned show of force. The crowd was estimated to range between 15000-20000 people.

This was no spontaneous affair. for months, government ministers and the UPR ruling party officials have been shuttling back and forth to Nouadhibou to prepare the rally. Originally, the visit was decided after local party bosses threatened to leave the ruling party a few months back in the fall of last year. The stakes became even higher after the opposition’s successful protests yesterday in Nouakchott.

On the form, the visibly tense General surrounded himself with his government ministers at the rally to present an image of a hands-on manager. Calling on each of them, or pointing at them throughout the one-hour speech, Aziz was intent on matching promises with faces. Without missing a beat, rattled off a series of promises of electricity, water, roads and civil state reforms. Visibly, the man was on a mission to show that he is a man of action and principles. This was a replay of his 2009 campaign theme of the “President of The Poor.” Only, this time, he is not facing any elections but a growing wave of protests after disillusionment with his policies, as well as, the lack of any tangible improvements to the country’s living conditions. 

On the substance, the General attacked vehemently his critics and opponents describing them as: “liars, thieves” and went further to simply state that they were “marginal, and inexistent opposition.” A strange thing for the strongman to say in the same breath as he claimed to be a democrat allowing opposition figures “to go on TV to lie and insult him.” In essence, this was a Qadhafiesque performance but on a shorter time schedule. 

Borrowing a page from Hugo Chavez’s playbook, Aziz’s message was a mix of populist grandiose promises of prosperity, and aggressive self-styling as a “man of the people.” However, lacking Chavez’s and Qadhafi’s oratory style, it still remains to be seen whether the man will win over his national audience with this performance. In his eagerness to mitigate the seriousness of the current crisis, the General went as far as denying that the country was on the verge of a famine claiming it to be “an opposition lie.”

Another singular moment was when the General attempted to stoke up nationalist and patriotic sentiments. Aziz alleged that Mauritania’s soldier, recently released by AlQaeda, was not free due to any negotiations. His explanation was that he, on principle, does not negotiate with terrorists but..that the soldiers was traded against a terrorist that was in Mauritanian custody. He further added that once handed over to the terrorists, the air force was prompt to bomb them. The raid was reported as having occurred over Malian territory, and to have missed its targets, hitting instead a truck loaded with goods.

The aggressive rhetoric is likely an attempt to repair the strongman’s tarnished image after a slew of corruption scandals since his 2008 coup. By far, the most serious among those was the scandal involving his own son Badr that sent shockwaves across Mauritanian society. 

The young man was released from police custody back in January after he shot a girl with a pistol lodging a bullet in her spine. The presidential family moved swiftly to save the son. it put immense pressure on the victim’s family and the Attorney General to avoid any legal pursuit of General’s son. Finally, the family’s victim received a substantial sum of money from the Aziz family in order to keep them quiet.

Arguably, today’s most awkward moment came just before the speech begun. A man was heard live on Mauritanian TV shouting: “Aziz we want jobs, Aziz we want jobs.” The sound was interrupted in the live broadcast, and the camera quickly shifted to people carrying signs praising the General. After all, one man in Mauritania can claim today that he gave the authoritarian ruler a piece of the people’s mind.





#Mauritania #April25 Opposition MP’s Join Youth at Police Station Protest

26 04 2011

This video was shot today during the ongoing sit-in by the February 25 youth in front of the 4th district police station in Nouakchott where most of their detainees are thought to be held.
The protesters are joined by several opposition MP’s and leaders from the anti-slavery movement.
To an outsider this video is another banal protest, in fact, these very scenes show a new reinvigorated political discourse shaping the youth protest movement. The protesters have internalized the two main clean-break ingredients that allowed the Arab Spring to happen elsewhere:
- A post-ideological culture of civl rights
-A commitment to nonviolence
It’s worth also noting that the youth are camping up as we speak by the police station after they took over the plaza in front of the detention center. According to this blogger’s sources, the police is deliberately avoiding any direct contact with the protesters for fear of provoking a new round of mass protests as yesterday’s.
The government is rattled.




#Mauritania #April25 Detained Youth Leader in his own words

26 04 2011

AhmedJiddou.mp4 Watch on Posterous

Ahmed Jiddou, blogger, and February 25 movement activist speaking about his motives to come out to protest.He remains detained in an undisclosed location since his arrest yesterday during the April 25 Day of Rage.
He is a peaceful, nonviolent Mauritanian citizen who was exercising his constitutional right to express his dissent.
Video courtesy of @lissnup





#Mauritania #April25 Detained Youth Movement Members Pictures

26 04 2011
Freenouakchott7

These are photos of the February 25 youth movement members who were arrested yesterday April 25, 2011 by the Mauritanian government in Nouakchott during the Day of Rage protest in downtown Nouakchott. Some of them are held in an undisclosed location. The government still refuses to explain the reasons for their detention and their whereabouts.
Mauritania’s police has a long history of beatings, torture and mistreatment of political prisoners and detainees.
To date no human rights organization outside Mauritania has commented, covered or intervened on behalf of the protesters.
Picture courtesy of @Mauritanidem1





#Mauritania #April25 CNN iReport

26 04 2011
via @Lissnup, a tip of the hat to her all her work supporting the youth in Mauritania. Twitter is indeed the people’s news agency. On another note, when was the last time Mauritania was cover on any American mainstream media outlet?




#Mauritania #April25 Day of Anger Video

26 04 2011

Courtesy of Essirage, this video has a quick roundup of some of the protest yesterday in Nouakchott till noon. The day ended with a violent crack down by the police and the arrest of 8 activists. However, the protest took a more violent turn in the northern city of Zouerate (home to the country’s mining industry) where police opened fire injuring one protester and causing injuries to others. The authorities deny they opened fire.





#Mauritania #April25 Activist Ahmed Jiddou Arrested

25 04 2011

Ahmned Jiddou seen in minute 1:06 of this video calling for protest, was arrested today. He has been one of the most active promoters of today’s demonstrations.








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