The Coffin and Libya’s War in Chad

The Imtidad Blog has a translation of an excerpt from التابوت (The Coffin) Abdallah al-Ghazal’s 2003 novel on the Libya-Chad ‘Toyota War’. The conflict over the Azou Strip on the southern border between Libya and Chad was a major point in Libya foreign policy in the 1970s and 1980s, with several clashes and interventions from the Libyan side into Chad from 1978 through till 1987. The conflict was eventually settled at high costs for the Libyans especially who lost thousands and thousands of men and lots of materiel (although there are impressive descriptions of the Libyans troops and weapons from north to south over more than a thousand kilometres by air and ground the Libyans were melted in combat and suffered from trouble with their Chadian clients and their politics). The technical component in the war has aroused some interested, as the term ‘Toyota War’ suggests, though the role of air power has been another focus. The history is nowadays neglected, especially since Libya became closely tied to Chad’s leadership after the conflict ended. Academic books have been written on the subject and it features prominently in some works on African geopolitics or Libyan foreign policy in Africa; there do not seem to be many accounts of the fighting on the Libyan side that are easily accessible in general. It is not obscure to Africa or Libya watchers but does not always stand out in the way other African conflicts do.*

In any case, al-Ghazal’s novel is quite worth reading: this reader came across the Arabic version a couple of years ago and finished it in June or July of this year and not being a literary person he is not in a good place to judge its artistic quality. التابوت The Coffin holds attention and gives a sense of what an individual’s experience was like in one of these miserable and needless conflicts you read about in political and security literature or see caricatured in bad cinema (there is actually an awful Pauly Shore comedy (‘In the Army Now’) about a couple of dimwitted American reservists caught in the midsts of a Libyan invasion of Chad). It was worth going through in Arabic. The translated excerpt at Imtidad is decent but if the reader has a sense for Arabic the renderings that may come off as awkward or robotic do make sense and most of it does capture the style and feel of al-Ghazal’s narrative (that is not meant as criticism, given the blocky translations that go up on this site). Hopefully there will be more translations of the book at Imtidad as has been promised. Continue reading

Vandewalle on Qadhafite Reform

On 15 December, Dirk Vandewalle, the great Libya scholar, wrote in the Guardian:

In an earlier article, weeks after Saif’s infamous speech in which he vowed to help crush all opposition, Barber exhorted us to “engage with Saif’s better instincts, for Libya’s sake” (Yes, he’s a Gaddafi. But there is still a real reformer inside, 13 April). Barber, like several other western public intellectuals and well-known academic figures that were brought to Libya to help provide a veneer of respectability to the regime, never really understood what they were up against. His support of Saif – a self-appointed reformer who argued for accountability but, without accountability, spent millions of dollars of his country’s money for his personal enjoyment – was a particularly egregious example.

But nowhere is his lack of understanding of Libya’s reality under Gaddafi so apparent as when he tries to parse Saif’s role in the uprising by asking whether he was “merely a cheerleader for the regime, or … giving orders?” Doesn’t he understand that in a brutal dictatorship like Libya’s, Saif’s privileged position in effect made that distinction purely academic?

Perhaps the point is simply that everyone should desist offering unsolicited advice, and let Libyans get on with the formidable tasks they face in rebuilding a country that, in part because of Saif Gaddafi’s actions, suffered so much. Continue reading

Lacher on the Social Bases of Activity in the Libyan Revolution

Wolfram Lacher has an interesting article (‘Families, Tribes and Cities in the Libyan Revolution,’ at the Middle East Policy Council) on the role of families and tribes in the Libyan revolution, during the struggle against Qadhafi and after. Long and very interesting portions are posted below. Do read the whole thing.  Continue reading

More Links

Some worthwhile links:

An excellent series from The Atlantic on Libya’s Berbers in the wake of the revolution there. Installment one and two are here and here; a third is due Friday.

A backgrounder on AQIM from Cross the Green Mountain.

Lyes Laribi’s history of the Algerian secret services, Du MALG au DRS (in French).

Marc Lynch on ‘The Big Think Behind the Arab Spring,’ where he argues ‘the Arab peoples’ have returned to regional politics and that the Arab uprisings:

generated a marvelous range of innovative tactics (uploading mobile-camera videos to social media like Facebook and Twitter, seizing and holding public squares), they did not introduce any particularly new ideas. The relentless critique of the status quo, the generational desire for political change, the yearning for democratic freedoms, the intense pan-Arab identification — these had all been in circulation for more than a decade. What changed with the fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia was the recognition that even the worst tyrants could be toppled. It shattered the wall of fear.

Emily Parker on ‘Tunisia’s Election Results and the Question of Minorities,’ focused on Christians and Jews there.

The minority question is important; both in terms of non-Muslim sects and atheists (who are often neglected in questions of minorities in both predominantly Muslim and Christian society, it should be noted) and non-Sunni Muslim sects — which do exist in North Africa, especially in Tunisia (at Djerba), Libya (in Jebel Nafusa) and in Algeria (in Ghardaia). Most of these are Ibadhites though there are smaller numbers of converts to Shi’ism. This sometimes overlaps with rights for ethnic minorities, as North African Ibadhites are usually also Berbers. It will be interesting to see how minority rights issues are resolved in the countries which have recently had uprisings, especially because religious minorities are generally smaler in the Maghreb than in Egypt and the Levant (where there are very large numbers of Christians of multiple denominations), especially as Islamist parties come to the fore in government (and how secular or other non-Islamist parties treat these questions, too).

Finally there is an El Khabar article from yesterday on recent kidnappings in Mali and the Sahel, citing Algerian security sources as it warns of immanent kidnappings and describes AQIM units responsible for kidnapping foreigners and some of the politics between and within them. Below is a short listing of some of the interesting points: Continue reading

Addendum: ‘Thoughts on a Whig Approach to Qadhafi’s Death’

Your blogger outlined his general attitude toward the killing of Qadhafi before. The images and video of his capture and killing are, as others have said, in poor taste and the event is probably symptomatic of the broad challenges facing transitional Libya (in particular, as The Arabist writes, ‘the well-armed, adrenaline pumped youth who now rule the streets’). The attitude of many human rights groups won callous scorn from many people who were glad to hear about Qadhafi’s fate even as they recognized that it did not follow a legal route; and this blogger is still dubious as to its practical importance or effect going forward, as was noted last week. Still, one does feel strange having arrived at that sort of a place. In leisure reading your blogger came across this column (‘Atrocity Pictures’ from ‘As I Please’) by George Orwell from 1944, on the treatment of Nazi collaborators in post-liberation France. It seems relevant to that conversation, which is why this blogger is beating at the dead horse with this post.

Tribune, 8 September 1944

I have before me an exceptionally disgusting photograph, from the Star of August 29, of two partially undressed women, with shaven heads and with swastikas painted on their faces, being led through the streets of Paris amid grinning onlookers. The Star — not that I am picking on the Star, for most of the press has behaved likewise — reproduces this photograph with seeming approval.

I don’t blame the French for doing this kind of thing. They have had four years of suffering, and I can partially imagine how they feel towards the collaborators. But it is a different matter when newspapers in this country try to persuade their readers that shaving women’s heads is a nice thing to do. As soon as I saw this Star photograph, I thought, “Where have I seen something like this before?” Then I remembered. Just about ten years ago, when the Nazi regime was beginning to get into its stride, very similar pictures of humiliated Jews being led through the streets of German cities were exhibited in the British press — but with this difference, that on that occasion we were not expected to approve.

Recently another newspaper published photographs of the dangling corpses of Germans hanged by the Russians in Kharkov, and carefully informed its readers that these executions had been filmed and that the public would shortly be able to witness them at the new theatres. (Were children admitted, I wonder?)

There is a saying of Nietzche which I have quoted before, but which is worth quoting again:

He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you.

“Too long,” in this context, should perhaps be taken as meaning “after the dragon is beaten.”

Qadhafi: Not Funny?

Your blogger is usually irritated by efforts to make humor out of Mu’amar al-Qadhafi’s clothes or speeches or whatever other superficialities he used to play the fool with foreigners (some of the ‘Zenga Zenga‘ videos were amusing in a brainless way). Such things are usually more vulgar than amusing, more profane than insightful. Saturday Night Live‘s effort at lampooninging his General Assembly speech, for instance, played into the distraction and offered virtually no satire or humor at all. An even more recent one, where Qadhafi appears on SNL’s fake news program and satirizes the rationale for the American intervention in Libya, manages to get lose its satire in a series 80s jokes and references to Qadhafi’s wardrobe (the jokes about the American domestic debate over the no-fly-zone and Hillary Clinton are so full of pained effort the viewer laughs in pity). These are objections both to the messaging (or absence of messaging) in a great deal of North American humor (supposedly) at Qadhafi’s expense and to its quality as political humor.

Political satire, like much art, is a kind of propaganda. It is best if its authors can recognize that much. When they attempt to do otherwise it damages their craft and the audience’s experience. But many of these attempts, especially SNL’s, are not merely poor pieces of political satire in their constitution; they are also unfunny and not clever as television comedy on their own, which is not a controversial thing to say about Saturday Night Live. ‘The Official Visit,’ an episode of Yes, Minister (ancient, sure)offers a fictionalized satire of western politicians hungry for African business and domestic plaudits bringing wrangling with an ideologically objectionable (though in the end pragmatic) dictator in a way that somewhat closely resembles the rehabilitation of Qadhafi. Characteristic of the series, ‘The Official Visit’ is direct in its invective and offers many laughs (some of them ethnocentric for sure) without losing sight of its political message. Too much contemporary late night political humor is aimless (or tries too hard to say a lot while communicating nothing) and pointless. In any case, unlike recent Qadhafi-humor, the clip above manages to be somewhat funny.

Continue reading

Thoughts on a Whig Approach to Qadhafi’s Death

Well meaning human rights groups and writers watched the humiliation of Mu’amar al-Qadhafi with horror. He faced no charges, stood at no trial and was dumped in a shipping container with a bullet in his head. Pity he could not have faced a trial before the Libyan people or some international authority rather than being ripped up and executed in the street. Your blogger feels this was fitting enough: Qadhafi allowed his own enemies nothing much better. It is reasonable to worry that this might set a precedent for more such revenge killings for his supporters, that this might inspire (or validate) a tendency toward arbitrary mob ‘justice’ in the new Libya. It also the case that in the course of the war there was much of this sort of revenge killing on the fly. Those and the ones which may happen now and in the future are quite significant. Qadhafi’s death itself is emotionally satisfying but politically somewhat beside the point. The ‘tide’ had turned in Libya no later than the capture of Tripoli; building institutions (which it is now commonplace to say Qadhafi left none) and monopolising the use of force is paramount now. As Paul Pillar notes, Qadhafi was not Napoleon and his elimination does not alter things for the new authorities in Libya any more than the capture of Saddam Hussein did for Americans in Iraq. Continue reading

Mu’amar al-Qadhafi: Dead.

The ‘Brother Leader’ is dead. Let us not say ‘Long live the Brother Leader.’

At The Economist (the greatest magazine there is):

He ruled unsparingly. In his Libya, dissent was punishable by death. A private press was forbidden, and political parties banned. Several dozen deaths a year of political opponents were attributed to his secret police, acting on tip-offs from the surveillance committees to which around 10% of Libyans belonged. In Abu Salim prison, on one night in 1996, 1,200 political prisoners died. If his enemies fled abroad, his hired assassins found these “scum” and killed them. The colonel’s writ, as recorded in his “Green Book” of rambling political philosophy, replaced the rule of law.

[. . .]

Around this figure the West, for four decades, prevaricated. The young colonel’s “Third Mystery of Socialism”, a middle way between capitalism and communism which, in his words, solved all the contradictions of either system, seemed unthreatening enough. His people’s communes were blatantly powerless, his own “brotherly” power absolute, but then absolutism was common enough in oil-producing states. He was not a Marxist, at least: Egypt’s nationalist hero, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was his model, rather than Lenin. And he had oil.

Eventually tolerance snapped. In the 1980s, as Colonel Qaddafi shopped round the Far East for nuclear bombs, sponsored terror groups, invaded Chad in the cause of a “Greater Libya” and sent agents to blow up a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie in Scotland, he became a pariah: Ronald Reagan’s “mad dog”, to be bombed until he whimpered. But by the new century he was ingratiating himself. He said the right things about al-Qaeda; offered his nuclear programme for inspection, and in 2003 abandoned it; paid compensation for Lockerbie; and, apparently chastened by his own military incompetence, seemed to have forgotten his windy pan-Arab and pan-Islamist dreams. In a world suddenly teeming with dangerous Islamists, he was now far from the worst. At the G8 in 2009 he shook hands with Barack Obama. The same year he was allowed to speak for more than an hour at the UN, repaying its tolerance by tearing from the UN Charter the pages that talked about democracy.

[. . .]

Almost to the last, too, he tried to pose as one of his people. When protesters first erupted on the streets of Tripoli this year, he offered to protest along with them. Surely, after years of venomous pabulum from his “Green Book”, they would have learned to think as he did. But they were beginning to dare to think differently—about Libya, and about him.

Great Moments in Transliteration: the Case of “Qadhafi”

A follow up on the finacky post on transliterating Mu’amar al-Qadhafi’s name into English. Andrew Sullivan (Zack Beauchamp, rather), Issandr el-Amrani and Michael Collins Dunn have all posted on the issue, summarizing and explaining their (or others’) outlooks. Dunn’s post elicited a comment from David Mack, the State Department political officer who decided to use the quite utilitarian and most accurate transliteration — Qadhafi — for American reports.

Thank you, Mike, for transliterating the name in the manner you do. As a young political officer and translator/interpreter at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli in September 1969, I decided on the “correct” transliteration. Doubling the dh consonant would have been more purist but really too fussy for the largely non-Arabist readers of US government reports. In those days, before more sophisticated word searches became possible, biographic files could be lost forever if they did not use a standard spelling. Pity the Arabists who obstinately tried to use a standard fusha transliteration from the written Arabic for Gamal Abdel Nasser or Habib Bourguiba.

Readers’ Questions & Answers: More Thoughts on Arab Uprisings

Last week reader sent an email asking a number of questions about the impact of the Arab uprisings on the Arab region in terms of the foreign policy of the countries in the region, from the perspective of some one who generally focuses on the Maghreb. Another reader emailed and asked for thoughts on Libya specifically. This is the response to both, not totally coherent (these are areas of generally peripheral interest/knowledge for this blogger) but here is a summary and then a very general thought dump on: Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and regional Islamist movements (some of it is a bit dated, since it was written a week ago). Take it all with a grain of salt.

SUMMARY, SHORT TERM. The Arab uprisings have seriously altered the region’s geopolitical setting. The uprisings have raised the political stakes for Arab governments and publics. Arab elites will face new challenges from emergent counter-elites and  political forces. More open domestic political environments in Egypt and Tunisia are very likely to lead to more diverse political scenes in general, and especially within the regional Islamist tendencies. The Gulf states will seek additional security partners to help avoid additional upheaval as seen in Bahrain and will attempt to leverage their economic, religious and cultural influence to moderate and “balance” the political outcomes of uprisings and political processes elsewhere in the region while accentuating a sectarian (Sunni-Shi’i) narrative regarding unrest in the Gulf to gain reassurance from traditional western allies regarding internal security and Iran. The outlook, posture and position of key regional stakeholders has been complicated and rearranged and actors like Turkey and Iran face significant opportunities and challenges and they will be forced to rethink and reconfigure their approaches to exerting public and official influence in the Arab region. Continue reading

On the Dismissal of Naha Mint Mouknass

Mauritanian Foreign Affairs Minister Naha Mint Mouknass(R) poses with Libya's Secretary of the General people's committee for Foreign Affairs Moussa Koussa in Tunis during the opening of the meeting gathering five Foreign Affairs ministers of the Arab Magreb Union (UMA) and five from the European Union.Naha Mint Mouknass was dismissed from the post of Foreign Minister last week. This is significant with respect to Mauritania’s relations with Libya, one of its principal Arab patrons as well its overall foreign policy.

Background: Foreign Minister since August 2009, Mouknass was the first woman to hold the post in Mauritania. Mouknass came to the office with excellent political credentials: the daughter of a celebrated Foreign Minister whose business savvy made their small El-Guera’a tribe an important political force in the country’s north. She was an advisor to the country’s pre-2005 strongman Maaouiya Ould Tayya and headed up the small political party Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (UDP) and sitting on the parliamentary Foreign Relations Commission. She also had and retains extremely close ties to Libya.

During the 2005-2007 transition Mouknass spent a year in Tripoli where she cultivated extensive ties to Mu’amar al-Qadhafi’s inner circle. She became particularly close with Nouri al Mismari (later a representative to Paris), a chief Qadhafi advisor who became her key link to Qadhafi. Following the 2008 coup, then-general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz sought Libyan support to balance off western sanctions and gain critical financial support. After Ould Abdel Aziz cut Mauritania’s ties with Israel, Qadhafi became Mauritania’s main backer in North Africa (along with Morocco, whose motivations were separate) and Mouknass’s appointment following the 2009 election reflected these close ties. Mouknass, like others involved in the Libyan portfolio, gained political clout and wealth from her proximity to Qadhafi and Libyan investment in Mauritania’s politics and economy. Her dismissal is thus significant. The day after the UNSC-backed bombing campaign began in Libya, the Mauritanian government seized land sold to Libya to build the al-Fatah Hotel. Thus might lead one to deduce that her removal may signal a move away from Qadhafi on the part of president Ould Abdel Aziz but this is most likely not the case (recall Ould Abdel Aziz’s call to Qadhafi at the beginning of the crisis and the measured tone of the Foreign Ministry statement on the crisis last month).

Sacked: During the Paris Conference on the Libyan no-fly-zone, Mauritania hosted (at Nouakchott) the Meeting of the AU High-Level ad hoc Committee on Libya, made up of Mauritania, Mali, Congo, South Africa and Uganda as well as AU Commission chief Jean Ping. The Paris summit included representatives from the UN, Arab League, US and a host of NATO countries contributing to the no-fly-zone — and France had invited the AU. The Nouakchott meeting may thus been seen as an important snub by the African Union against the mainly US-European backed effort against Qadhafi — which does indeed feature symbolically important Arab support from the Gulf countries and the Libyan resistance (it should be noted that the unanimous Arab League resolution endorsing the no-fly-zone passed with only 11 countries (according to early reports, which would mean there was oddly no official quorum) present and the infamous abstentions from Algeria and Syria; the absences are perhaps more important than the vote itself; readers are invited to clarify/confirm the list of attendees at the meeting).

The Nouakchott communique called for an “immediate cessation” of violence in Libya and called on the government in Tripoli to allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need and to consider necessary political reforms. It stood in direct distention from the consensus represented in Paris, noting in dissatisfaction that the Commission requested permission fly to Libya to “deal with” the situation and was “denied permission” to enter the country. In terms of Mauritania it showed that Ould Abdel Aziz was confident enough in Qadhafi to shun France, still Nouakchott’s major patron with significant leverage, in a time of crisis. Thus it was critical for all things to go well and for all segments of the policy process to be in sync.

Enter the Foreign Minister. Mint Mouknass withheld the policy statements she wrote for the president from the rest of his entourage and presented it to him directly on the day of the meeting, breaking protocol and causing friction within the inner circle which attendees detected. This is the reason given to queries regarding her dismissal. Rumors and press reports say she will continue to serve as an advisor on Libya, Iran and Palestinian issues though this is not independently verified. It is additionally postulated, and very probably accurate, that she was dismissed as a result of Nouri al-Mismari‘s defection from the Libyan regime which came at the same time as other Libyan diplomats were resigning their posts in protest of atrocities committed against the resistance (al-Mismari was a counselor at the Libyan Embassy in France and chief of protocol until the crisis; his son resigned as a representative to Ottawa on 23 February). Al-Mismari’s defection cut out Mouknass’s key link to Qadhafi, reducing her value politically, and her dismissal likely reflects messaging from Ould Abdel Aziz to Qadhafi with respect to his stance on the defections. This does not represent Mouknass being ejected from the regime but rather a situational adjustment. It does, however, represent the potential impact of the defections that have rocked Libya’s diplomatic corps.

Otherwise: Mauritania’s post-2008 foreign policy has relied heavily on three important factors: 1) Mauritania’s centrality to the AQIM problem in the Sahel and western governments’ perceptional bias for stabilizing forces “tough on terrorism,” which makes military men like Ould Abdel Aziz strategically useful against international terrorism and violent extremism. This has helped to securitize western policy toward Mauritania and led to hesitance to cut off military and economic aid and the linking of internal political consolidation to security issues generally (this is more persuasive to foreigners than Mauritanians in general); 2) The leveraging of favor from wealthy Third World powers such as Libya, Venezuela, Iran and Qatar against western efforts to force political action and/or reform by slashing aid or political ties, thus allowing the junta and then government of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to consolidate himself internally and wait out western (primarily US and French) efforts to pressure him politically ahead of the 2009 elections and the Dakar process and; 3) International business networks with interests in Mauritania linked to and overlapping with powerful western, mainly French, political actors. The downside of this has been that it does not endear him to France and positioning himself so close to Qadhafi and against the French position in the current crisis — at a time when France has been attempting to be a conspicuous leader. This may reduce Paris’s willingness to engage or reach out to Ould Abdel Aziz in the event of a crisis in Mauritania, which could arise from recent protests that have only escalated in the last two weeks (Ould Abdel Aziz’s relationship with Qadhafi is also increasingly unpopular domestically). Thus the Mauritanians for the time being are more vulnerable at this stage in the Libyan crisis (and their own) as a result of their relationship with Qadhafi than they were at the beginning and the level of political risk associated the current protest movement has slightly increased.

Thoughts re: Mauritania’s protests

UPDATE: Here is a map of the political parties and social groups participating and the notable ones not participating in the 25 February protests. (RFD refers to Rally of Forces for Democracy; UFP the Union of Forces for Progress; RUF to the Rally for Unity and Democracy; UPR to the Union for the Republic (President Ould Abdel Aziz’s party); and APP to the People’s Progressive Alliance (Messaoud Boulkheir’s party. “FB organizers” refers to Facebook groups (of which there are many) and their followers who turned out to the demonstrations the largest of which have some thousands of members (two of these are mentioned by name).)The PDF is here.

This post is a general appraisal of the 25 February protests in Mauritania, taking into account their sentiment, their effects on the regime and the role played by the Libyan crisis. Its content is as of the late evening of 25 February. Readers with information as to the progress of the protests are welcome encouraged to contribute their thoughts and experiences in the comments section or by email. Updates and clarifications will follow. Continue reading

Chart: Some Mauritanian responses to the Libyan crisis

Here is a chart mapping some of the responses to the Libyan crisis (thus far). The PDF is here.

It should be said: virtually everyone with eyes, balanced minds and souls seems to be repulsed and disgusted by the indiscriminate and unrelenting violence (and vulgar threats of violence) taking place in Libya right now. That includes many, many Mauritanians. Readers will remember that this blog has long taken special interest in Libya’s role in Mauritania’s recent foreign policy since 2008. Thus it is only natural that this blog might try to account for responses to the crisis there using mind mapping software and obnoxious colors.

Note that both parliamentary majority leader Khalil Ould Tayeb and Foreign Minister Naha Mint Mouknass both have exceedingly close ties to Qadhafi; Mint Mouknass in particular enjoys the personal favor of Qadhafi and both have enjoyed his financial patronage. The “pro-Qadhafi parties” are those that pledged allegiance to Qadhafi in 2010 (Ould Abdel Aziz himself has been strongly backed by Qadhafi since the Gaza crisis). More on this in a later post though. Libya was essential in stabilizing Ould Abel Aziz’s foreign policy following the 2008 coup (especially after Ould Abdel Aziz broke relations with Israel during the Gaza Crisis), as well as helping to build parts of his political alliance and helping the General balance western, Arab and African reprisals. Qadhafi attempted to intervene on Ould Abdel Aziz behalf and was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Mauritania after the coup, claiming that elections and coups were no different from one another in a speech, causing moans and groans in the opposition at the time. Ould Abdel Aziz (as well as many opposition and pro-Ould Abdel Aziz factions) made many important visits to Tripoli during the post-coup period with important effects on Mauritania’s foreign policy in the Arab region and its domestic politics. This period was followed on this blog with interest.

One might speculate that if Qadhafi were to fall it could lead to an important realignment in Mauritania’s foreign policy with respect to Morocco and Algeria and its relations with its west African neighbors (with whom relations are relative poor on a leader-to-leader basis and which have been in some cases stabilized by Qadhafi’s intervention). Surely Ould Abdel Aziz’s very public relationship with Qadhafi is damaging to his own standing with an increasingly unsettled population and an opposition long bothered by his tendency to brush them off. Ould Abdel Aziz has been seen as as increasingly autocratic and opportunistic by his critics and recent events at Fassala and over scheduled youth protests (which the government has obstructed) have led to violent clashes between citizens and police and threats of sit-ins from students and youth groups. If Ould Abdel Aziz loses Qadhafi, his important and rich patron, he may lose his ability to hold on to some of his allies in parliament and the political parties; he may also lose some steam in recruiting new allies if he no longer has the financial and political backing of Qadhafi. And if Qadhafi remains in power his brand, and perhaps by extension Ould Abdel Aziz’s brand, may be badly stained by the blood of the many Libyans that have been shot, dismembered, tortured and otherwise obliterated over the last several days as Mauritanians and the whole rest of the world watches. This will be relevant in upcoming municipal and parliamentary elections. If Qadhafi remains in power his money might still be powerful but this recent crisis might be able to do to Ould Abdel Aziz’s relationship with Qadhafi’s Libya what the Gulf War did to Maaouiya Ould Tayya’s relationship with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. One shudders to attempt to predict big shifts or big things but there are some real possibilities for important shifts in the region with Qadhafi gone; Mauritania is a place where these might be seen easily. These things are always uncertain though.

Also note that certain important political parties are missing; these will be added with more time to add and search for statements and communiques. Readers are welcome to point such statements (as well as off clarifications, corrections, etc.) in the comments section (in fact, please do help contribute to and improve this — especially where students and unions are concerned). Links to the news articles used to build this chart will be posted shortly, either within a brief narrative or listing.

Qadhafi at the UN: the face of everyone’s misdeeds

Muammar al-Qadhafi is most diplomatically called problematic. In his grand exposition of his foreign policy, the Stream of Consciousness Policy, he succeeded, as his diplomatic corps and conduct has before, the Brother Leader ably turned the world away from pressing issues facing the developing world. Rambling on about a host of issues, some more relevant in 1969 others more relevant today, he offered the world community perhaps the greatest fit of foolishness yet seen on the world stage. And he, together with the Western and African leaders who coddle him, has done more damage to the cause of the disenfranchised than any other man this year. It makes one consider that it may be true that “to do and suffer evil is the universal human condition.” Continue reading

Worth reading

Here are some stories on the region worth checking out:

  • As Algeria grows more Islamic, nightlife suffers,” 8 August, 2009. The premise of the article is somewhat wrongheaded, as its title suggests. Algeria has been Islamic for some time. That its nightlife is struggling is only slightly newsworthy but does show, as the author intends, that “reconciliation” has meant acquiescing to demands of popular Islamist (not “Islamic”) sentiments.
  • France’s Algerian shadow,” Aljazeera English, Veterans, August, 2009. An interesting segment on the memory of the Algerian War of Independence and its post-war maltreatment of Muslim harkis (Algerians who fought for the French; who were relentlessly driven from their homes, hacked up, or forced into dreary exile in France, or quiet shame within Algeria; the term is taken to mean “traitor,” the opposite of a patriot, the moral antithesis of the moudjahid or chahid). The program is interesting, interviewing harkis, Algerians, French vets and the like. French and Algerian viewers may take issue with its framing.
  • Qadhafi’s Time in the Limelight: Impact on U.S. Interests,” Dana Moss (WINEP), 28 August, 2009. Interesting summation of Qadhafi’s 40th anniversary, his upcoming visit to the United Nations (and his desire to pitch a tent in New Jersey), the release of Meghrahi, and so on and so forth. According to Moss, the Brother Leader heads “an opportunistic regime,” that “may no longer be an enemy, but it is a very unreliable friend.” She notes that the US has little to offer Qadhafi, though he may embarrass his hosts with typically ridiculous speech-making, or work contra US efforts in Africa should he feel that American engagement does not sufficiently match his liking.
  • Libya Marks 40-Years of Qaddafi,” Aljazeera English, 1 September, 2009. Describes the ghoulish glitz and kitch of Qadhafi’s anniversary celebrations, asking few tough questions, quoting planners who compare the endeavor in relation to an “Olympic opening ceremony” and outsiders who remark on how little Libya’s massive oil wealth has benefited its puny population of but 6 million. An homage to misrule.
  • Gaddafi coup celebrations expose Moroccan land dispute,” Jerusalem Post, 2 September, 2009. The Moroccan delegation stormed away from Qadhafi’s party because Mohamed Abdelaziz, president of the Saharawi SADR, was present. A set from Morocco’s security forces was to participate in the processions, but apparently no more. This mini-row is a wonderful illustration of the whole escapade’s stupendous stupidity. The celebration was also attended by Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, his first foreign trip since the elections.
  • Moines de Tibéhirine : « une affaire franco-française », selon Ouyahia,” TSA, 2 September, 2o09. I received an email asking why I was not writing more about the controversy around the killing of the monks at Tiberhirine. The reason is that it is of great real consequence in the region. It holds significance in Franco-Algerian relations, and represents an effort from the French end to influence things on the Algerian side, but has more meaning for the French than the Algerians. Algerians very much see it as an attempt to undermine Ahmed Ouyahia, whom the French are said to dislike and who is thought to be a likely follow up to Bouteflika.
  • Larbi Belkheir hospitalisé à l’hôpital du Val-de-Grâce en France,” TSA, 2 September, 2009. Larbi Belkheir, once a major player in the generals’ regime during the 1990’s, before being shipped off to obscurity as Ambassador to Morocco, has suffered from complications from lung cancer for some time. This week he was sent of to the Val-de Grâce military hospital in Paris, after returning to Algiers earlier. Since his return to Algeria in 2008, his responsibilities were taken up by Boumediene Guenadi, the Deputy Ambassador. He has been dropped in a recent shuffle of Algerian diplomatic postings and the post in Rabat has yet to be filled.
  • La France et les USA rapatrient les familles des employés du pétrole,” Taqadoumy, 2 September, 2009. US and France bring home the families employees of oil companies in Mali and Niger. The State Department Reavel Warnings and Travel Alterts for Mali, and Mauritania have been updated with greater urgency. Numerous American aid and development projects (including the Peace Corps) are being scaled back or brought home from the Sahel, a reaction to increasing AQIM activity.
  • Going back a few months, the Algerian-American community in Washington, D.C.  has been grumpy since the new Algerian Ambassador, Abdallah Baali, failed to put on 5 July (Independence Day) celebrations for the Algerian community in the area, as per tradition. Local Algerians complain that while the embassy put on 4 July celebrations to mark American independence, it failed to mark its own national holiday, and that the two events could have been merged, if finances, time or whatever other possibilities were the concern. At the same time some feel disconnected from the new Ambassador, whose “style” they see as being rather different from the more personalized one of his predecessor. At the same time, personal feuds splintered celebrations elsewhere on the east coast, where multiple celebrations went on in the same city (in more than one city). In some places, communities economized and celebrated American and Algerian independence on one day, simultaneously. It said the embassy has taken note of the Washington Algerians’ concerns.

More meaningful blogging will soon commence.

Post-bombing thoughts

With respect to General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s recent appeals to Western governments regarding fighting terrorism in Mauritania, the following should be recognized; all while noting American efforts at military cooperation with Libya, Ould Abdel Aziz’s meetings with the Iranian Foreign Minister and the region’s indigenous power relationships. It must be said, though, most Mauritanians are more concerned with the make up of the new government than anything else. Continue reading

Some ways not to look at Mauritania

The first major statement General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz made after the 18 July election was a promise to fight terrorism in Mauritania. This was for an international audience, aimed especially at the Untied States and Europeans. Having had little stomach for the 8 August coup and having rather consistently opposed the junta politically, the Americans have kept up their military cooperation with Mauritania, in an effort to combat the proliferation of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as well as other smuggling networks in the region. It is his hope that by appealing to this common interest, he will be able to convince the Western powers of his utility thereby encouraging them to extend a warmer welcome to the contested election results and to his poorly regarded leadership generally.

There is no public discussion, let alone debate, about Mauritania in the United States. The 8 August coup engendered about as much conversation as the later Madagascar coup. The country is primarily discussed in terms of terrorism and military operations. Writing on the country is infrequent, and only one major opinion piece came out about the elections, a hatchetjob on Ould Abdel Aziz, labeling him Ahmadinejad’s North African protege, in the Wall Street Journal. While the piece was not inaccurate in its description of the situation, it centered on the country’s Israel policy, and its drift toward the radical Arabs and Iran. It does not place these moves in the context of Mauritanian diplomatic history, which is replete with “moderate,” “radical” or neutral shifts most of which scarcely relate to ideology. It described what are essentially long standing elements of Mauritanian policy, without informing the reader of that context. Nevertheless, it was, in this blogger’s view, one of the best informed pieces written on the country in an American paper over the last two or more months.

Already there are some who view Ould Abdel Aziz’s electoral victory (and perhaps even the 8 August coup itself) through the lens of counter terrorism and regional stability. One blogger wrote that because Mauritania, as a part of the Islamic world generally, is “facing an existential threat” which necessitates not only acceptance but support for the process that has lead the situation to where it is now since 8 August of last year.º That blogger’s narrative around the coup and last weekend’s election evidences a confused understanding of the country’s situation and recent history. The conclusion that this understanding produces holds unfortunate prospects not only for Mauritanians but also for American policy in the region generally. Continue reading