Readers will recall this blogger’s interest in the Ba’thist trend in Mauritania, which is mainly dominated by the Iraqi/Saddamist strain. Mauritanian Ba’this (as well as a few of the other, small Arab nationalist or nationalist-Islamist parties) had gravitated toward the Qadhafite trend while Libya spreading largesse in the country, in the last few years mainly after the 2008 coup. CRIDEM has a very short summary report of a conference on 29 December where Ba’thists and other fans of Saddam commemorated the fifth anniversary of the death of Saddam Hussein with discussions on the state of the Arab ummah (community) and Arabic poetry readings; portraits of Saddam Hussein were distributed to attendees. The CRIDEM link is also interesting for reader comments, whose tone shows the kind of sentiments Saddam’s image calls up for some Mauritanians (especially non-Arab Mauritanians) given the country’s diversity and history in the last twenty or twenty five years as it relates to race and ethnic politics. At the same it shows the extent to which Mauritanian Arabs are integrated into pan-Arab trends and political discourses,¹ how Mauritanian political culture in general has been de-territorialised over the last few decades in terms of pan-Arab and pan-Islamic and Islamist narratives and ideologies (the difference between the latter two is especially important; and in terms of ethnic differences, the way ‘Moors’ and ‘Afro-Mauritanians associate and disassociate religion from identity politics is also important (Mauritanian Ba’thists include many religious references in their propaganda and programmes; the same is true for some of the other Arab nationalist parties; also among some of the Haratine movements Arabism and Islamic identity have been used to legitimise anti-slavery and anti-discrimination efforts for the descendants of slaves), while also keeping in mind that Islam is an important part of official or semi-official Mauritanian nationalist narratives in any case — the place is called the Islamic Republic of Mauritania on purpose not by coincidence; a similar trend can also be seen in black Mauritanian ethnic politics, too, where ‘African’ as opposed to ‘Arab’ identity and pan-politics have been somewhat prominent, especially in exile). In any case an interesting event that coincides with similar such commemorations elsewhere in the Arab countries.
UPDATE: Reader ‘Herbe Verte’ adds some useful detail alluded to in the original post on perceptions of Ba’thi and Nasserist influence on the racial violence in the early 1990s, as well as the historic competition between Ba’thists and Islamists (Ould Mansour refers to Jamil Ould Mansour, nowadays leader of Tawasoul, the Mauritanian Brotherhood):
Concerning the Moor vs Futanké (‘non-Arabs, from Futa Tooro, the Senegal River Valley) divide, one has to remember that amongst the Futanké, the dominant narrative is that the 1989 massacres against their community was due to Ba’athists and Nasserists who, at the time, had infiltrated the government and wanted to Arabize Mauritania. In other words, they are depicted as the key architects of the anti-Futanké (anti-Black) massacres of the 1987-1991 period. This is why the hatred against these two (in)formal networks (Ba’athists and Nasserists) is so vivid amongst Futanké.
Also, clashes amongst Islamists and Ba’athists, at the end of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, were numerous. Ould Mansour, for instance, was often fighting the Ba’athists at the time (even if later on some switched allegiences, notable when Saddam began using an Islamic rhetoric at the time of the first Gulf War).
Ould Tayya purged Ba’this from the army in the late 1980s but allowed them some significant sway in government regarding educational and cultural policy shortly there after (his relationship with Ba’this was complicated but also regulated by his relationship with Iraq; when the purges did come is said Saddam was aware of it and did not object). In fact, the Ba’this were probably at the hight of their direct influence on Mauritanian politics during the 1989-1991 crisis (Mohammed Yehdih Ould Breideleil had an important post in the CMSN for instance) and were responsible for setting the tone and stirring up violent sentiments against blacks; the government White Paper on the conflict with Senegal issued at the end of 1989 is a good example of this. How heavy this influence on the massacres and violence was relative to the rest of the non-Ba’thi forces in the government and army needs to be thought (since the Ba’this were a small minority, albeit well placed) but their role cannot be ignored in this period. The summary on the Mauritanian Ba’th on this discusses this briefly. In some cases Ba’this switched parties or movements altogether in the 1990s, joining the underground Islamist movement (or even the PRDS).In the 2000s especially Ba’thi and Nasserist discourse began to fuse Islamist and Arab nationalist tendencies ideologically, probably to keep up with the times.
1. A poor example but still valid (while accounting for class and all other sorts of limting factors) is how on Facebook one finds many young (Moorish) Mauritanians who have Saddam Hussein or Jamal abdul-Nasr as their profile picture; or a television sheikh from the Gulf; or Mokhtar Ould Daddah; or sheikhs from the large zaouias/Sufi brotherhoods like the Tidjaniyyah or Qadiriyyah; or even Mu’amar al-Qadhafi; all these things depend on the individual or what is happening in Mauritania or the region at any given time. A better and more recent example was how Mauritanian bloggers were able to muster a pretty effective boycott campaign among Arab bloggers of a government-sponsored regional bloggers conference this past month. Ould Abdel Aziz’s campaign against the Israeli embassy during the Gaza crisis is another similar example, both in the junta’s regional calculus and also the domestic reactions to it.