“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.”
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.