Things do not seem to be looking up for the Mauritanian junta, especially in foreign affairs. The junta continues to avoid shrewd politics on the African continent, and to make major PR blunders on the human rights front. General Abdel Aziz’s hunger for power and his stubbornness seem to be hindering progress: he might have avoided much of the drama by declaring that military personnel would not run for the presidency and speaking of the military as a mere facilitator in setting up elections. Instead, he has attempted to use his time in office like a campaign add, and earned the ire of the international community in the process. Still, though, there seems to be less popular desire for the ousted president’s return than for normalcy.
Vall is said to be filing papers for his retirement from the armed forces. As a member of the armed forces (he remains on paper a Colonel in the Army), he is presently ineligible to run for office. He surely wants to make a run for president, and this is a wide step in that direction (his ambitions and the French component were mentioned earlier). But he is not alone, and aside from the list of minor and not-so-minor hopefuls is General Abdel Aziz, who has yet to answer questions relating to his own inability to run for president because of his membership in the military. He has announced his willingness to run on several occasions (he often phrases it such that his desire to be president is a favor to the country). People familiar with the military apparatus say that resignation is “extremely difficult,” and that even Vall would not be able to amend it. Aziz may angle to use the retirement/resignation process as a weapon against Vall’s bid, by holding him up in the military.
Former Health and Tourism Minister (under Ould Tayya) and member of Ahmed Ould Sidi Baba’s RDU (and former Adil member) Isselmou Ould Abdelkader was arrested for going on a talking heads program on the Mauritanian national television station and sayying that the BASEP (Gen. Abdel Aziz’s unit before the coup) “is a unit that contains foreigners and takes its orders from abroad.” The head of the national broadcaster was promptly sacked the next day, and Ould Abdelkader arrested for “undermining the army’s morale”. He faces a seven year sentence. The FNDD has used the case as an example of censorship. On 26 October, protesters in Nouakchott pressing for his release were dispersed by police.
Zeine Ould Zeidane, who polled third in the last elections and who had until today been silent on the coup, is backing the junta. In an interview with Emirati television, Ould Zeidane called on states to recognize the junta, while stating that he believed that Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi should be released.
Young men were rounded up in the north and center of the country, both sets on terrorism charges. Over the weekend several men, some of them teenagers, were arrested in Tijikja. They are believed to have been members of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell. In Zouerat, which will be familiar to readers, two men of Saharawi origin, were arrested. One has connections to the Polisario Front, but later received training the northern Mali camps, before setting up a barber shop on the main road in Zouerate. The other is married to a Mauritanian and had been in trouble before. (See Sahara Media) In that vain, the Mauritanian army has announced the creation of two new anti-terrorism battalions, which also came with the announcement of some important reshuffling.
Sarkozy has announced that he will bring up the Mauritanian file in discussions with the Emir of Qatar. Qatar, recently one of the most diplomatically active Arab states, is a major investor in Mauritania. The Emir was in Nouakchott during the week of the battle of Tavregh Zeina, when Sidi Ould Sidna broke free, and cooperation between the emirate and Mauritania has grown in recent months. The Organization for Arab Democracy returned to Doha yesterday, and will host a meeting between the Mauritanian parties in fifteen days to resolve the issue.
The Mauritanians have sent delegations out to where ever they will be had to try and drum up support for the junta, at home and abroad. They have been so successful that the junta has been able to find support in places where one would least expect it, such as the International Organization of Francophone Mayors. This is, in fact, false, a lie wholly fabricated by the junta (the organization exists, but their support for the junta does not). Indeed, most of the junta’s efforts abroad have been given to underperformance. In Yemen and in Egypt they were turned away. Sources in Nouakchott say that people in the Foreign Ministry are blaming this on the US, which has been stalwartly against the coup. And they are probably right.
The Mauritanians were turned away for decidedly different reasons in Burkina Faso. After a meeting with Messoud Ould Boulkheir, Libya announced that “as a founding member of the African Union,” Libya could not support the coup. Qaddafi said that he had given his support to the junta after the Mauritanian delegation that visited Tripoli earlier this fall told him that Mauritania would terminate its relations with Israel. Since such action has not been forthcoming, Libya has dropped its support for the coup. The Burkinabese soon thereafter requested that a parliamentary delegation from Mauritania leave Ouagadougou at once. This is likely the result of Libyan prodding, given Qaddafi’s special interest in the country. It is also significant that this took place after a visit from Ould Boulkheir, whose relationships with certain friends of Libya have been noted here.
Even more interesting are reports that the junta is now looking into a review of its relations with Israel, so soon after this incident. A local newspaper in Nouakchott reported that Gen. Abdel Aziz is considering putting the country’s relations with Israel up to a popular referendum. This is significant for two reasons: (1) It was a campaign promise of Abdallahi, and (2) because if it does come up to a referendum, relations will surely be cut. It further shows that the junta is somewhat desperate for foreign support. At the same time that this would play along with Abdel Aziz’s love for taking swipes at the previous government’s failed promises in fits of demagogy (see here), it would also damage his relationship with the United States, which continues to provide military aid, partially as a result of Mauritania’s relations with Israel.
The US has given Mauritania 30 days before it refers the matter to the UNSC for sanctions. Knowledgeable people in Nouakchott seem to believe that the US is too busy to actually push for sanctions, while others are more worried.
Mali has closed its borders to Mauritanians, without explanation.
Above, it was mentioned that the junta’s diplomatic efforts have not gone over well. This is illustrated by the fact that Mohsin Ould Hadj, a close confidant of Gen Abdel Aziz, has attempted (to no avail) to hire members of the opposition to do advocacy work for the junta in North America (and Israel!). The junta’s policy has been such a diplomatic failure that it is being forced to dig under rocks it would likely rather bury.
A poll conducted by Taqadoumy shows that 81% of the three-hundred-something Mauritanians polled feel like the country was better off under Ould Tayya than it is today.
I was told that Wade is reversing his initial statements on sanctions, but I’ve yet to find news stories backing this up. If readers come across such news, please send links!