New World Politics Review Piece

This blogger published a brief piece for World Politics Review on vulnerabilities and risks in light of the re-election of Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz in Mauritania, and continued western support for his government. Aziz is seen as a reliable counterterrorism partner in much of the west and Algiers. There are many things at work that make him an effective regional ally and leader and others that expose Mauritania, his leadership, and the region at some risk. All eggs are best distributed in multiple baskets. It was shortened at publication for word count purposes; the full original will be posted on this blog shortly. Comments and feedback by email are welcome. Readers who need to hop the pay wall may contact this blogger for the piece at: nourithemoor @


Struggles Continue in Algeria: What to think?

Since the start of the year, political discussions among Algerians have been dominated by one question: What next, after Bouteflika? News from Algeria in the last quarter has added drama to a sweaty political stalemate in high politics widely seen as a struggle between clans around the President and the chief of the DRS, Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediene. Struggles within the FLN and RND were seen to reflect this to some degree, as the party apparatuses struggled to find consensus over internal leadership (party committees and secretary-generalships) and external leadership – parliamentary group leaderships and even party congress meetings (and meeting places) all through the year. The crisis in the FLN was resolved with Amar Saaidani taking the Secretary-Generalship; but no reporting or rumour suggests this man poses any challenge to Boueflika or that he represents successor material. Rumours about the motives of clans and sub-clans, cliques and former party leaders’ ambitions and agency were rife. Investigations into corruption in SONATRACH, including foreign partners, ripped into Bouteflika’s entourage again (after the fiascos of 2009 and 2010).  Bouteflika’s deep convalescence in France is rumoured to have been what now seems like a tremendous series of rearrangements at the heart of the state: Algerian news outlets reported that on his return the president moved to dismiss one ‘Colonel Fawzi,’ the chief of the Centre de la Communication et de la Diffusion (CCD) DRS’s media unit since 2001 – responsible for information operations and media relations – and replaced him with a ‘Colonel Okba.’ This was followed by a series of public appearances in which Bouteflika received the military Chief of Staff, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister each time sporting the clothes of old age – blankets and quite casual attire. Though he was clearly reduced in strength he seems to have lost no interest in being an active president – this was not a man looking to be seen as a three quarters president. Continue reading

Translation: Kadri on ‘Algerian Intellectuals’

This post features a translation of a 11 July 2013 interview in El Watan (conducted by Amel Blidi) with Aissa Kadri, an Algerian sociologist based in Europe. Here, Kadri critiques Algerian intellectuals’ disengagement from sociological debates in Algeria and their confinement to power relationship vis-a-vis elite power structures. It appears to have been passed around among many people in the original French. It is worth translating for the sake of bringing out some of the public sphere discussions that are taking place in Algeria as the country faces looming political transition, the [gradual] passing of the country’s first political generation, the reality of rather widespread micro-instability and a region changing rapidly and unpredictably.

Industry Arabic - translation services 300-1This translation was provided by Industry Arabic, a full service translation firm that provides English-Arabic-French technical, legal, and engineering translation management. Industry Arabic will provide glimpses from Algerian and Maghrebi presses to this site as part of an ongoing partnership.   Continue reading

Early Perspectives on the Mali Crisis from a Jihadist Forum (I)

SUMMARY: The following is an excerpt from a longer write up from summer 2012; it comes from the same write up as the post ‘Creative Responses to the Rebellion in Mali: A Look at the Forum Poetry‘ (06 July 2012). This post is one of two; a second excerpt will be posted in the future. The longer paper surveys posts dealing with the Mali criss on the Ansar al-Mujahideen Arabic forum, a top tier jihadist Internet forum. The focus is mostly on user-produced content — essays, columns and debates, as opposed to content posted by the Islamist groups in northern Mali (AQIM, Ansar Ed-Dine, MUJWA, etc.) or their media groups. It describes posts on the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum from January through early August 2012 by summarising and analysing three general categories of user/member-generated content (essays, articles, discussion threads, etc.):

  • News and Analysis of Northern Mali and Its Jihadis
  • Northern Mali and Jihadi Strategy in Africa
  • Creative Responses

This post addresses several threads representative of key narratives emerging among jihadist forum users regarding the conflict there. Generally, forum members view events in northern Mali as reinforcement for their existing political and religious views. Posters appear to percieve events in the region — from the arrival of Islamist armed groups in Timbuktu and Gao to corporal punishment for violations of shari’ah – as evidence of an unbridled ‘awakening’ to jihadism in west Africa in an international context. Some debate over the origins and legitimacy of the Islamist groups in northern Mali does take place, largely due to a lack of propaganda material released through conventional jihadist Internet media outlets; late in the summer of 2012 this began to change, as both MUJWA and Ansar Ed-Dine began posting more content to the jihadist forums in the form of videos and newsletters. Continue reading

Some Things We May Think About MUJWA

SUMMARY: This post is a general description of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA, also known by the English acronym MOJWA and the French MOJAO)[1], following on previous posts on the group’s origins and activities in northern Mali. It discusses the group’s origins, activities, leadership and relationships with other armed groups in northern Mali, including Iyad Ag Ghali’s Ansar Ed-Dine and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It also points to recent analyses of the group’s origins. Unlike previous posts on this blog dealing with MUJWA, which deal with competing explanations for the group’s origin it is preoccupied with its activities and recent comments by its leaders. Among the strongest formal descriptions of the group in English (such as they exist) comes from Dario Christiani for the Jamestown Foundation, published in Terrorism Monitor, Vol. 10, Issue 7 (6 April 2012). Mauritanian journalist Mohamed Mahmoud Abu al-Ma’ali has dealt with the emergence of the group in overviews of the Islamist armed groups for al-Jazeera, first in Arabic and now in English (PDF). Though relatively little is known about MUJWA with certainty and any analysis of the group must cautious to stress this, more information has become available with time and certain observations and even claims can be about the group. Continue reading

Cowely on Hitchens

It’s always unwise to make predictions, as any horseracing tipster or macro-economic forecaster must know, but Hitchens was wrong about the Taliban, with whom the western allies are now being forced to negotiate from a position of weakness, and the whole Afghanistan and Iraq misadventures. His general knowledge of the Middle East is superficial, he speaks no Islamic languages and, unlike, say, the politician-writer Rory Stewart or the Indian novelist Pankaj Mishra, he has made no serious, long-lasting attempt to immerse himself in the politics and cultures of this extraordinarily diverse and heterogeneous region, ravaged for so long by civil war and despotism, and destabilised by repeated foreign interventions.

In a long review of Koba the Dread, Hitchens writes that: “History is more of a tragedy than it is a morality tale.” Too often, when discussing the 10 years of war since 9/11, and in his chosen role of defender of “secularism and democracy”, Hitchens seems to have exchanged his tragic sense of history for the rhetoric of the western triumphalist.

The war on error,” Jason Cowley, FT, 23 September, 2011.

This is a terrific appraisal of Christopher Hitchens. It should be noted, as this blogger has done repeatedly, that Hitchens used his column in Vanity Fair to write a noisome cheer piece on the Tunisia of Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali (so much for Hitchens as a freedom struggler). Much of his writing on the Arab region or predominantly Muslim countries consists of impressionistic reports on tourism trips and puerile (though cleverly worded) generalizations. His columns and essays on Arabs and Islam (and things related to them) tend to leave the reader with much to be desired in the way of insight and knowledge. One hopes for a rigorous breakdown of Hitchens’s writings on the Middle East and on Islam/Islamism soon.

More of the Same

The 2010 Arab Opinion Survey seems to communicate similar, if increasing, dissatisfaction with the Obama administration in the Arab world. Though distinct in many ways from last year’s Pew Poll on similar subjects, the survey reveals many of the same lessons. Growing disappointment and pessimism appear to be the result of the Obama foreign policy in the region, of which this blog has been critical with some consistency. Continue reading

More Fast Thoughts

Nouakchott seems to be awash with rumors of a deal with France regarding a possible prisoner exchange. According to knowledgeable sources in and outside of Mauritania, rumors that Joyandet’s visit to Nouakchott would be used to press the Mauritanians to  to meet AQIM’s demands over a Frenchman kidnapped in Niger are credible. These sources say that a prisoner swap was at the top of the agenda at Alan Joyandet’s meeting with president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and that the two reached some kind of an understanding on this early. It is said that this came with assurances of French solid support (including financial aid) for Ould Abdel Aziz pending his compliance with this request. Ould Abdel Aziz would release (presumably) Salafist prisoners and AQIM would release the French citizen currently held. Additionally, other sources say that Ould Abdel Aziz planned to leverage his relations with Mohamed Hassan Ould Dedew to manage Islamist opinion regarding last week’s verdicts. He was initially embarrassed by Ould Dedew’s comments but after the Aleg 3 may be more comfortable.

The French also registered their opposition to the death penalty, which may help the government in maneuvering away from Sidi Ould Sidina, Mohamed Ould Chabarnou and Maarouf Ould Hiba’s death sentences; executions are highly impolitic in Mauritania, as they risk upsetting tribal relations. Given that at least one of the killers comes from a large tribe, and that all three have launched appeals, it is seems possible for their sentences to be commuted in the future. But, as many in the media have noted, the episode is the first of its kind in Mauritania and many things are in play.

Ould Abdel Aziz’s visit to Khartoum for the inauguration of Omar al-Bashir was a demonstration of support and gratitude (for al-Bashir’s advice and backing earlier). He is now preparing for a visit Paris (as well as Nice, for independence celebrations). Also abroad this week was General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (the second most powerful figure in the regime) has been in discussions with French and Chinese officials. His mission to Beijing includes military and economic issues (with emphasis on the economic side; think fish). The outcome of both Paris visits will be especially relevant, as will be the results of the Brussels donors meeting. The economic situation (especially in agriculture) will make this summer a rough one and the government knows that it will need as much help as it can get. Workers’ strikes are threatened, staged or obstructed almost weekly (more on that later) and the opposition has capitalized on several of them thus far. More are likely to come as the summer progresses.

UPDATE: Ould Abdel Aziz’s original plan was to travel directly from Khartoum to Paris; he re-routed his travel arrangements so that he could head to Paris from Nouakchott. According to local sources this was a quick and abrupt return and its purpose is still obscure.

Fast Thoughts

The three men sentenced to death for the Aleg killings were all operatives; of the three, Mohamed Ould Chabarnou is the most ideologically inclined from an intellectual perspective. Mohamed Ould Lemine al-Majlissi, who was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine, however, is of greater significance. Recall that Sidi Ould Sidina regarded al-Majlissi as a do-nothing (one of the qa’idoun, the sitters; i.e., a lot of talk and no action) and that al-Majlissi saw Ould Sidina as being “unbalanced” (al-Majlissi has tried to separate himself from physical acts of violence, though he does condone it against apostates and non-Muslims). Al-Majlissi nevertheless admitted to acting as a preacher and recruiter for AQIM in Mauritania. He traveled through the country-side, convincing young men to travel to the AQIM camps in northern Mali and on to Iraq. He never trained in the camps or picked up arms himself, though he did cooperate and organize with the organization (he was charged as an accomplice). His short sentence owes to his shrewd methodology.

The three sentenced to death will appeal the court’s decision. They claim they were tortured and while they plead not guilty they admitted to be waging jihad against foreigners and apostates (see this video). Others tried last week registered similar concerns. That leaders in the Salafist movement have also raised these grievances has embarrassed the regime and irritated foreign governments; the government has tried to leverage the religious movement over the last year, using it as an ally against traditional opposition groups it has excluded from government (the government being that of Mohamed “I will not form a unity government” Ould Abdel Aziz). The trials have the potential to harm the deepening relationship between the leadership of the Islamist tendency and the regime by alienating the movement’s grass roots who were in eager attendance at this week’s proceedings.

The Salafist subculture is regarded with suspicion by most Mauritanians. It has grown in recent years but remains marginal. A large part of this sub-culture (one might even call it a counter-culture) was present at this week and last week’s trials often cheering on the defendants. One could observe Moorish and black Africans in the crowds, though Moors predominated. The Salafist and Ikhwani tendencies (which while both Islamist are distinct and often at odds with one another) have both traditionally relied on Moorish followings. The Ikhwani end (represented in Tawassoul) has tended to be especially Moorish and relatively reliant on its leader’s tribal followings. The Salafists have had somewhat more success with the black African population but not by much. Both are reliant on social networks that a primarily Arab, some of which have carried over from the old Baʿthist movement (more on that later). The newer generation of its leadership has formed separate networks among young people (at home and abroad). Both cliques are small, well organized, politically ambitious and have much potential for expansion.

Still more to come…

Trials and Visits

Here are some highlights and thoughts from the last week in Mauritania (another post on issues beyond what is below is coming down the pipeline):

Five of nineteen Mauritanians on trial for terrorism charges were sentenced this week. Among the nineteen are Sidi Ould Sidina, Mohamed Ould Chabarnou and Maarouf Ould Hiba who stand accused of murdering four French tourists at Aleg in 2007 who will go on trial on Sunday. The men are discussed here, here and here. In addition, one of the group’s prominent ideologues, Brahim Ould Ely (“Saharaoui”) was sentenced to ten years in prison. Others managed lesser terms and hard labor. One was acquitted. The sentences are relatively light, though some feel the process was unfair or in the words of Sheikh Mohamed Hassan Ould Dedew, “unjustand “contrary to the President and the atmosphere of dialogue”. Aqlame published an article on 18 May declaring that “Dialogue is Futile,” writing that “has the government has backtracked on its approach to dialogue” and questioning the government’s involvement with the “global war on terrorism”. It concludes by worrying that the government is “returning to the first position of taking any open confrontation with al-Qaeda, relying on force alone to achieve victory.” Depending on Ould Sidina, Chabarnou and Ould Hiba’s sentences, it will be more clear as to where the government stance with regards to these criticisms and its relationship to the Islamist tendency (which it has been cultivating since last winter).

In news related to AQIM, France is widely believed to be pressuring Mauritania into releasing prisoners to get the terrorist group to release a Frenchmen kidnapped in Niger . This is said to be one of the main purposes of Alan Joyandet’s (the French Minister of Cooperation and Francophonie) visit to Mauritania earlier in the week. The French would like the Mauritanians to do a deal similar to Mali’s earlier this year.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the famous tele-Sheikh, is visiting Mauritania this week. He is the guest of Sheikh Dedew, which greatly increases Dedew’s credibility within the religious movement and beyond. It also distracts some attention from the The pair have made and will make several appearances together, including one at the Olympic stadium in Nouakchott. Qaradawi’s remarks one such event touched on a variety of subjects including economic development, “the force of Islamic civilization,” the importance of the Muslim diaspora (specifically mentioning China), the need for Muslim unity, Qur’an recitation competitions and so on. He was met by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on arrival, and praised the president for shutting down the Israeli embassy and his “interest in social justice and the poor”. The video of this reception can be seen below.

General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani hosted a dinner for Qaradawi. Ould Ghazouani is one of the main centers of power in the regime (easily the second most powerful officer) and the dinner represents the government’s attempt to establish and maintain bona fides with the religious tendency. Like much of the population, Ould Ghazouani’s tribe, many members of which are important patrons of the religious movement, was excited for the occasion. Qaradawi enjoys a wide following in Mauritania. Ould Abdel Aziz’s and Ould Ghazouani’s public associations with him are designed to improve the regime’s standing with the religious movement and the population at large by projecting an image of piety and populism.

Good books

Two new books worth reading: Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War by Robert Jervis (Cornell, 2010) and The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War by Nicholas Thompson (Henry Holt, 2009). Jervis’s book is especially useful because it reproduces a CIA report on analytical failures leading up to the Iranian Revolution, probing and explaining why American observers by and large failed to see it coming. The section on the Iraq War lacks this level of depth because not enough information is available yet. But many of Jervis’s observations are pertinent and hot, even if the book is vastly more interesting in its first case study. Thompson’s book is one of many books on Kennan that have come out in the last couple of years; it does a dual biography with Nitze that is fascinating, regardless of whether it comes off with more affection than might be necessary. But it still offers a unique take on both men that makes for engrossing and worthwhile reading. One sometimes grows weary of reading descriptions of George Frost Kennan’s cool temper and geeko-stratego disposition in a world full of capricious and jocular policymakers and hacks. Thompson’s book keeps some of this but buries it under the more interesting intellectual back-and-forth between Kennan and Nitze and constructs a tight narrative that grabs the reader in a really meaningful way where the evolution of grand strategy is concerned. Compared with other recent biographies of Kennan, Thompson’s is one of the better ones at focusing on intellectual content. Both books are highly recommended.

Friday bulletin

Some especially relevant news: Stoning Beit Sidioca, Mauritania at the Arab Summit and the world system, Erdogan as a human being and a Muslim, who won’t be in Algeria’s election and questioning Egypt’s “leadership.” Continue reading

Reality in action

At WSI alle writes:

But what of the neighbours? Senegal, nothing. Morocco, nothing. Algeria, nothing. Polisario/SADR, nothing. Why? Because they’re waiting to figure out who is in charge, and who will win, and what the others are up to.

Interestingly, those countries who have reacted with the most fervor are those with the smallest stake in Mauritania. Those reacting quietly are those with [more or less] vital geopolitical interests in the country. For those removed from the action, the coup is a means by which they can offer evidence of ideological consistency. Things are little more complicated, though, when the action is so close to home.