Disquiet in eastern Mauritania

UPDATE: Fassala’s police commissioner has been dismissed. Yesterday students demonstrated outside of the Ministry of the Interior to protest the government’s handling of the incident and were arrested.

It began as an angry protest over water shortages by tribes in Fassala, in Mauritania’s eastern Hodh ash-Sharqi, province and escalated into days of clashes between local people and police and gendarmes. Local tribes met with the local prefect in hopes that he would resolve a dispute over access to a well. The prefect insulted the gathering at which point they set on him and his entourage — according to the newspapers he was “almost lynched” by the crowd. Police and gendarmes beat back the locals. In the ruckus, both police and protestors were injured. The police sent reinforcements, escalating the violence; the next day men from the Nema military garrison were sent to assist in putting down the violence using teargas and batons. The locals set fire to the town hall, several municipal builds as well as car. The demonstrators “categorically deny the existence of any other motivation than the deteriorating economic situation and the authorities ignoring their demands for a solution to these problems through dialogue rather than repression and delinquency.” Newspaper reports say thirty-two local people have been arrested by the Gendarmerie, who stormed houses in the town of (about) 10,000 people on the border with Mali. Al-Akhbar reports “growing talk of torture of detainees,” citing the experience of two detainees released (providing their names and a list of the names of “those among the most prominent detainees”, though it does not say what for; more on this later, perhaps). Opposition MPs scolded the government, Prime Minister Moulay Ould Mohamed Laghdef in particular, for economic stagnation and “serious abuse [by this government] with the concerns of the citizen.” One MP, Mohamed Mustafa Ould Badr al-Din of the Union of Forces for Progress (UFP) said the government had taken only piecemeal measures to appease Mauritanians’ demands in hopes of avoiding “a popular uprising as in Tunisia”. Similar protests are said to be appearing in other towns in Hodh ash-Sharqi with arrests being ordered, it is said, by the president himself.

These clashes highlight growing discontent with Mauritania’s always precarious economic situation and the government of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Without going into great detail here (time is brief, expect a mind map/chart in a week or so) there have been mobilizations of student unions, workers and rural people fed up with increasingly austere living conditions and in some cases linked to perceptions of revolts elsewhere in the Arab world. Organizers (human rights and youth groups) of a demonstration in Zouerate have faced harassment and the confiscation of tents and authorities shut down a market described as a popular gathering place for youth in anticipation of demonstrations — forcing organizers to postpone the demonstration. The protestors’ demands include such things as clean drinking water, opportunities for youth and limitations of environmental pollution resulting from near by iron-ore mines. Like governments across the region, Mauritania’s leadership is on the defensive: the country has seen a self-immolation, the fall of two major Arab regimes, standing demands from labor groups going back months if not years, public defections and the economic situation remains difficult for average citizens. Watching his great patron, Mu’amar al-Qadhafi, struggle to hold together his crumbling regime must also weigh heavily on President Ould Abdel Aziz. Libya has been a major supporter of Ould Abdel Aziz financially and politically and these associations are well known (the effect of the recent uprising in Libya on Mauritania’s foreign politics will be considered separately). Thus, as Mauritanian journalists and opposition figures (as well as religious ones) have forcefully condemn the crackdown on protestors in Libya the government must be watching events closely. One should not expect an uprising in Mauritania — a place where political violence is exceptional — but there are pressures building from the the regional climate that may produce important developments in the country’s domestic politics in coming weeks and months. More on this later.

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14 thoughts on “Disquiet in eastern Mauritania”

  1. Reporting from Mauretania is always welcome. Never heard of this town of 10000 on the Mali border? On google maps there is a Fassale but on the Mali side.

    1. Fassala is an English transliteration/spelling but all the Mauritanian papers, maps etc have in Mauritania as does Wikipedia. I think it might one of those glitches in Google maps (ie in Central America). Google earth has the same. Not sure if it’s disputed but that seems unlikely since the Mauritanians have their Gendarmes and military doing their thing there and the local administrators seem to function as elsewhere. An interesting feature though, will look into it.

      http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fassale

      Thanks Priffe!

  2. Me too, I do not see any chance of uprising in Mauritania. But you never know with those interested in grabbing power before the elections in 2014.

    Kal said this:
    “One should not expect an uprising in Mauritania — a place where political violence is exceptional — but there are pressures building from the the regional climate that may produce important developments in the country’s domestic politics in coming weeks and months”

  3. I do not totally agree with the point of views listed above. Does anybody ever think about possible uprising of people in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya?
    You know when people reach an upset with a regime (no matter how long was he in power), citizen become fed up and they will do everything up to sacrify their lives in order to topple such regime. In Mauretania this mood level was reached a while ago and people mainly youth is ready to confrontation wit Aziz’ junta (in fact there were no democraty in Mauritanie, what was implemented in july 2008 was a big sad joke supported and financed by the mastermind GADDAFI). So, please ,do not underestimate mauritanian people capability to topple aziz’s junta and their civilian supporters.
    In a few weeks you will him seeking a shelter in Senegal or in Morrocco as Lybia is now of the game.

    1. Anything is possible and the intention is not to underestimate Mauritanians; we don’t yet know what it will look like when Aziz goes. It is a great thing he has lost one shelter if he must flee though.

    2. Amar,

      You want bloodshed and another military taking over. Give the guy until his first term in 2014 is over. But keep putting pressure on him to do the best or lose in 2014. We dont need bloodshed for nothing and the opposition is what you know: incompetent and useless, interested only in power. Aziz’s supporters will be gone by 2012: Sarkozy, Wade and Kadafi. He has to do good or he will go. No chance for him to extend his stay beyond 2 terms if he does good. For one thing, he is keeping AQIM and their manipulators away for some time and for that I support him. If he tries to do like Ben Ali with his own Traboulsis, he will be gone. I dont think that these idiots from the opposition will do better anyway. Comme on dit chez nous, laisse mouton pisser.

      1. tidinit,
        I have a deep respect to your opinion, nevertheless it seems to me you’re not fully aware about what is happening inside mauritania nowadays:famine, diseases, unemployment, poverty, bribery, insecurity, corruption of morals, drug, contraband etc.. Our Youth see the horizon very dark. From 2005, this junta and his cronies looted the economy for the benefit of their cousins, admirers, and ”franceafrique” which is in exchange securing them the power.
        Therefore, if We would support your suggestion to let them rule the country by 2014, then, Mauritania simply will disappear from the map as an independent country or in the best case a bankrupt country.

      2. It’s true: Amar has a strong case given all the sit ins, strikes, etc being threatened and the fear the regime is showing toward students, the people in the east and so on. Very interesting to watch

  4. Mr. Kal,
    ese political parties lost their credibility as they se
    Thank you for your short comment. Beleive me or not we’re here quite stressed and fearing first clashes between our youth who is not under any control neither from their tribes nor from classic opposition leaders. They several times approached the ”dictator” General Aziz and he everytime laugh at them. People do not beleive anymore neither the opposition nor the fictive majority who rely on a disbalanced use of war machines, real bullets , rpg equipments and tear gaz grenades. In front of them you have a youth average 25 years planning a peaceful sit in exercing thus, a growing pressure on rulers in order to proceed to necessary cultural, social,financial,political reforms and abandon the oneself management of the country; mining, hydrocarbure and fihing potential. In other words this planned sit in on february 25 has a double aims:
    -To covince the junta that military ruling of the country showed its limits therefore, from now on, it will be forbidden in the next modification of the constitution to allow any past, actual or future military to rule the country anymore. They ruled the country from july 1978 by today and the result is staggering. They (the junta) should concentrate on their unique and noble mission to guard the territorial integrity and defend the constitution.
    They should let the civilians bring their contribution, their ideas, their plans in order to save the country from bankrupcy and sinking.
    Once again thank for triggering this debate which should lead,I hope, to a safety and wize compromise avoiding thus bloodshed and a long, very long period of unrest.

    1. You have a strong case and I will consider it in an upcoming post. I have believed for some time that Aziz was hoping to set up personal rule (or something like it); he seemed to be on that road but recent problems in the economy and the region seem to make it more difficult.

      I’m really glad you are offering this opinion and perspective. Please keep reading and commenting!

  5. I join Amar in his opinion. Perhaps being outside makes me unaware of lot of little things going o and building-up in Msuritania. Personally, without being a supporter of Aziz, I wished things to calm down, allow Aziz to do whatever he think right and wait for elections in 2014. With AQIM on our back, geo-strategic games played and a very long period of unrest that led Aziz to topple his ex-crony Sidioca and the opposition, I indeed thought it is best to let the country at peace for sone time. The opposition figues we see now will not do better, I think.

    Yes Amar: Aziz lately doing exactly what Ould Taya was doing, that, is now giving attention to the changes around, surrounding him with the ex-friends of Ould Taya and giving a he,ping hand to his family in such business as oil concessions through phony companies, uranium exploration rights for sure and I don’t know what else. Having trou les like in Algeria, Tunis, Egypt and Libya will really harm us all as the alternative will be abother coup d’état as he sgill have those who supported him: France, Sénégal and the US. By 2012, Sarko, Wade (Sénégal) will be gone and there would be no other opportunity to trick the country again. Either he does good by 2012 or 2013 or he is out definitively through the ballots. That is my dream as we are tired of coups, one after the other since 1978. A wishful thinking perhaps from my part.

    This Libyan mess is very interesting to watch and will definitively have a huge impact on the stsbility of Mauritania. Just let’s hope that we will be able to manage the changes ahead if there would be any before 2014.

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