We tried his cell, he’s not picking up.
The Mauritanian President and PM have been taken into custody by military troops this morning, after state TV went off the air. As I said earlier in the year, it is doubtful that Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (popularly known as Sidi) will complete his full term in office. Surely, this is the case now. The AP’s title, “Renegade army officers stage coup” sounds exaggerated to me, as the military as a whole seems not to have been pleased with the utter lack of leadership that characterized Sidi’s presidency.
The military’s gripes with the President are numerous: His inability to tackle the growing terrorist problem in the country; his economic incompetence (which may well have been as much the fault of a bad world economy as to Sidi’s own fumbling); his wife’s excesses as the country lunged towards famine and wallowed in poverty, even having gone as far as to hold exorbitant celebration in the capitol featuring Cheb Khaled, and the list goes on. A divided nation with bloated bellies looked for leadership and found passivity and impotence.
Worst of all, he attempted to establish what can only be described as personal rule, and did so incompetently. Imitating his Algerian counterpart by riding to power on the backs of generals and colonels and then pushing them out of the way once he’d moved into the presidential palace in order to consolidate his own power. Doing so required the President to surround himself with well known and well loathed figures from the deposed Maaouiya Ould Taya regime. The progress of his administration looked more and more like that of others in the Arab world. When Yahia Ould Ahmed el-Wagf came on as his new PM he denied that a rift existed between him and the army. Grumbling members of the junta that staged the 2005 coup knew this to be wholly false. The plot line of the Sidi story is the division between him and those military men who deposed Ould Taya, only to see the most odious vestiges of that regime return at their expense. He aimed to sack Cols. Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed Ghazouani and Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who led today’s coup. Both men had engineered the 2005 coup, along with Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall.
Continuously pushing towards his own self-destruction by his choice of allies and policy, his term is over and done. And this before he could dissolve parliament after a legion of supporters left his party earlier this month.
For the first time, about five years ago, an Arab officer corps had deposed a long standing dictator and kept their promise to hold free, democratic elections and allowed a civilian leader to take the reins of that country. The democratic process was imperfect, but it was closer to world standards than Lebanese, Jordanian, or Algerian polling. But so incompetent was this man that where it took France nineteen years to say that they would not intervene if his tyrannical predecessor were deposed it took the French barely a year in his case.
In a country like Mauritania where politics is not so much ideological as it is personal, one cannot expect serious changes in foreign policy coming out of Nouakchott in the wake of this coup. The last coup was followed by pronouncements that nothing would change, including the country’s diplomatic ties with Israel and its pro-Western disposition. No properties or resources will be nationalized and no foreigners expelled. The Great Powers (the US, especially France, China, Russia, etc.) and the AU and Arab League will likely react cautiously, though the AU is likely to expel the country from its ranks again, as punishment for the putschists (as in 2005). The US will condemn the coup, France is supporting it, though the EU has condemned it, China will condone it, and Russia will as well. Or so I see it happening.
The country is experiencing a crisis of management and leadership. Most likely, the military will hold elections yet again, backing a weak and moderately ambitious, but loyal civilian, who will be elected. Mauritania, whose story is often called sui generis by American editors (i.e., it does not directly link back to Israel, the Palestinians, or something otherwise Levantine; or does not project a “mirror” to the rest of the Arab world), seems ever more just that in comparison with the other Arab states. One cannot contemplate Syrian, Egyptian, Algerian, or Jordanian officers deposing inept leaders and trusting the judgment of the masses in choosing new leadership.
On the other hand, it is just as likely that the new regime will not be able to “reset” the process, despite the widespread distaste for Sidi, and that the coup will put the country back into the warp it fell into in the late ’70’s eventually creating Ould Taya.