Quickly, here is what I know to be the situation in Mauritania as of the weekend.
12 soldiers were found dead in Tourine, over the weekend. It was thought that they would be held for ransom, or theatrical affect, but this is clearly not the case. Public opinion is outraged. Some are pushing a conspiracy theory ascribing the “ambush” to the junta, as a means of playing up the terror threat to the West. While the junta is surely desperate to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the US and EU, this is unlikely. The attack could hint towards some degree of collaboration or infiltration of the military by AQIM sympathizers. Low ranking members of the army have been arrested previously for collaborating with AQIM (military personnel have sold weapons to AQIM, and some low ranking personnel have joined the movement; Sidi Ould Sidina, for instance was a deserter from the military). That, too, though, is unlikely, at least as evidence of some kind of ideological proliferation — if it is the case it is probably more the result of service members selling out for financial or material gain rather than out of loyalty to Salafism. The ambush could have been facilitated by poor planning and execution on the part of the Mauritanians leading the convoy. Still though, AQIM seems to be for the most scattered and neutralized in Mauritania, many of its plots based in the more urban areas have been disrupted, explaining why their activities have been primarily rural.
According to those circulating round the diplomatic quarters of Nouakchott (both American and Mauritanian), the GWOT case [in favor of the junta] is slowly seeping into the Western embassies. Western diplomats are realizing that as time passes, the likelihood that Abdallahi will be restored becomes more and more remote and that the country, in general, lacks the will to bring him back. The military wanted a leader that could allow them to hold and play their old cards whilst keeping the rest of the country in proper order. Sidi did not. The population wanted a president capable of leading in a modestly positive direction developmentally and politically. Sidi did not. A common trope goes that not one centimeter of road was built under Sidi’s administration, and not one national infrastructure project were not initiated. This is not to say that much more has been done hither to now under the junta, the belief that his mandate has expired is rather strong, outside of his political allies now in the opposition and among the opportunists (readers will know who, specifically).
IMF/World Bank aid has been cut, along with US military aid and EU assistance — bit it has yet to shake the junta’s grip on power. Western powers are stuck between blockading one of the world’s poorest states over the overthrow of one of the continent’s most ineffectual democratically elected leaders and recognizing the reality that Sidi is out of the picture as a political actor and now stands as a ghost in the political scene. If they adopt the latter posture, they will need to embrace it on the junta’s arguments pace their anti-terrorism credentials in order to make a strategic justification for it, so that it does not appear that they are merely conceding to the actuality of the situation due to their own incapacity to force change. It often ends up that sanctions only dent the ruling clique only slightly, and sap the population of its capacity to organize against negative leadership. In that regard, the country’s poverty may actually benefit the junta, as international donors withhold aid at the expense of a malnourished and hungry population — the country may be too poor for sanctions to persist.
Sidi and Khattou are being prepared to be put on trial for corruption. Sidi will be held to account for things that the entire Mauritanian elite can be accused of. Sidi’s trial will be less politicized than his wife’s, because of this. The prosecution will probably avoid trying to set precedents and offering some kind of spectacular verdict. Khattou’s case, on the other hand, will probably be more concrete, more personal, and more muddy than her husband’s. She made many enemies and earned the contempt of much of the country’s elite. Her “crimes” are less common than her husbands, her corruption more blatant and her persona more antagonistic. (For instance, she bought land on Nouakchott’s green belt directly from the Ministry of the Interior at rock bottom prices, whilst using her status as the President’s wife to bully those on the other end of the transaction.) People involved believe they will have them in front of the court by the end of the year.