A recent skit by a Mauritanian comedy team satirized the life and times of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. After being sent home as a gift to his native Lemden, the former president settles in and begins hosting members of the opposition (i.e. the FNDD) and soon foreign diplomats follow. Sidi is pleased but others are not: “Thank you so much for visiting,” his brother tells them in exasperation, “but stop telling this guy he is our president, he’s not!”
The joke since Abdallahi’s transfer to Lemden has been that Mauritania has two capitals, one in Nouakchott and another in Lemden. Delegations from the major European and Arab embassies rushed to meetings with the deposed leader. But the excitement was short lived: his address on al-Arabiyya was met with a shrug, and the junta’s efforts to marginalize him further seem to have worked. By Independence Day (28 November), Abdallahi had announced his plan to hold independence day ceremonies. (Sidi’s speech can be read here.) No foreign dignitaries or representatives were in attendance — their presence would have been grounds for a diplomatic incident, and would have given rise to questions about respect for Mauritania’s national sovereignty. (Although, according to Taqadoumy, President Bush did send a congratulatory note to Abdhallahi.) The lonely affair points towards a change in the European attitude towards the way out of the Mauritanian crisis.
To protest the junta, members of the FNDD began skipping parliament, attempting to freeze the legislative process. Instead, the majority — made up of former Adil Independents and the RFD — convened without the opposition and passed a law requiring that MPs show up to work or face termination. The first victim was Messaou’d APP who lost Wane Hamade (from Zouerat) following the measure.
At the state ceremonies, usually a forum for leaders to inform the public of anything but reality, General Abel Aziz spoke in a manner uncommon for Mauritanian leaders: He spoke almost primarily of problems facing the country and what methods he thought would solve those problems. His speech lingered on issues he has raised in the past, before the poor and the country at large, such as corruption, poverty, illegal immigration, slavery, the lack of services and hospitals, and so on. “No doubt that the bankruptcy or the bankrupting of Air Mauritanie [several board chairs and appointed managers were arrested for corruption recently, including al-Waghef), which is now being investigated, has been a fatal blow to the air transport sector in our country, but the state will make efforts so that the airlines contribute to the development movement of the country.” The language is that of a man running for office, which, it would seem, is precisely what Abdel Aziz intends to do. Appealing to populist impulses by using the excesses of the political class and grievances related to corruption and mismanagement has, according to people in Nouakchott, earned him widespread popularity among the poor. Promising to seek out and hold the corrupt accountable, as he has throughout so frequently since the coup, also wins him points. Whether he intends to make good on such promises, though, remains ambiguous. What is clear, though, is that he intends to run for president.
In the meantime, members of the FNDD (Djamel Ould Mansour) and Ahmed Ould Daddah’s RFD met to discuss the oppostion’s role. Daddah asked that the FNDD “recognize” the junta, which Mansour refused to do.
On 26 November, Italian news quoted French sources saying that the EU no longer insists on Abdallahi’s return to office. Instead, the source said, the EU wanted to see the Mauritanians find a constitutional means of resolving the matter. Similarly, Ahmed Ben Heli, the Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League, was quoted in Asharq Alwasat as saying that he would visit Mauritania in early December, along with delegates from the UN, AU, Francophonie, UNSC, and the Islamic Conference. His goal? To ensure that mediation leads to transparent elections and allows Mauritanians to “solve their own problems.” There is talk that the junta offered the EU — though this cannot be confirmed — priority access to oil and mineral resources in exchange for a more conciliatory stance.
This came even as a high ranking French delegation made plans to visit Abdallahi. Kouchner said he opposed sanctions and that France sought a quick end to the crisis. Judging by the recent moves and statements from EU and regional elements, what the French delegation will be saying in Lemden (and afterwards) seems obvious. French officials were also supposed to meet with Col. Ely Vall, but had “a last minute change in their diplomatic agenda” and canceled the meeting.
On the Khatou side, Mohamed Lemine Ould Haless, the VP of the Khatou’s charity was arrested on corruption charges. It seems the junta may well go after the former first couple, bit by bit.