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.”
- Protesters chanting slogans against the reinstatement of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi have gathered outside the former Mauritanian president’s house yesterday. Scuffles between Sidioca supporters and opponents led to slight injuries. Some threw stones, threatening the former president if he considers returning to Nouakchott. Quite a spectacle, lead by pro-coup leaders (a senator from an obscure region). The scene is out of character for Moorish political culture, and I have been told that FNDD members roughed up some of the organizers of the march. Many of the participants, as the photos on Taqadoumy show, were poor black African Mauritanians who were told they would be going to support Abdel Aziz, but not that they would be taking part in an organized stoning of Sidioca’s home .
- Meanwhile, in Qatar, the Mauritanians announced that they would be first to act against Israel, freezing their relations with Israel. So did Qatar. The point was to embarrass the Egyptians and the Saudis — who were not present (neither was Mahmoud Abbas: Note that this was the first time that Hamas has presented itself as the only representatives of the Palestinians [دولة فلسطين] in an international forum.). Hamas thanked the Mauritanians for the decision. The Syrians cut off their indirect talks with Israel as well. The Iranians have congratulated the Mauritanians for their fortitude. This is probably as far as it will go, but if it goes any farther, expect a lengthy post on where Mauritanian foreign policy will go (or be made to go) as a result. [See #4 below.] It boils down to support Mauritania will be getting from Libya and Qatar. I think the emphasis might end up falling on Qatar, because of that country’s long term financial ties with Mauritania and their lack of open hostility towards the junta (in contrast to Libya; though this may mean that the Libyans end up having to pay up more either proportionately or in real terms).
- Flowing from this, the junta made its first ambassadorial appointment since the coup, naming Mohamed Vall Ould Bellal as Ambassador to Qatar. This is probably part of the compensation Mauritania is receiving for supporting the resistance at the summit. Still, the Israelis expect the speedy return of their Mauritanian ambassador.
- A high level Chinese delegation met with Gen. Abdel Aziz in Nouakchott, pledging “cooperation and friendship in 2009” and agreeing to help expand the Chinese-built Friendship Port. The junta hopes to build strong links with China, Iran, Syria and Venezuela as a means of avoiding “Western harassment”. This should not be difficult to do with China or Syria. Mauritania already has strong ties with China that have never been shaken by policy changes and Syria will taken almost any new friend. The other two will likely welcome the junta with open arms, but their ability to provide the kind of cover the Mauritanians want will be limited for some time because their agency and prestige are tied to the price of oil. Now is a bad time for the Mauritanians to decide to make this kind of shift, from West to East, in their policy. Oil prices are low and the eastern axis is wobbly: Russia will not be quite as ambitious in the next several months unless oil prices spike sharply (and they have repeatedly condemned the coup and their lack of consistency should worrying to those who have taken power illegally; It’s safer to stick with the Chinese), Venezuela is in the same boat (its even inviting Western firms back in), Iran and Syria should be somewhat reliable in the near term, Iran more so than Syria (but it is not as if Mauritania has ever had exceptionally bad relations with Syria, though the Iraqi Ba’th movement historically out did its Syrian counterpart in Nouakchott). Iran’s ability to do anything for Mauritania at an international level will be limited for at least the short term — but that is not so much the point, after all — the Mauritanians want domestic and financial assistance and it is possible for them to offer this. Still, these are states with money and they are the states that are least likely to shun the junta out of hand. And what the Americans or Europeans do? Apparently, not much. This shows, though, that the structure of the world system matters in a big way: Abdel Aziz would not have been able to contemplate making these kinds of maneuvers five or ten years ago because the international system lacked the multiploarity it now possesses and the American/EU role was too strong. The junta has been able to shrug off the Europeans, even as the EU was led by France, the Africans (the broad implications of which must be noted in light of Guinea) and has managed to wiggle a place for itself in the Arab context. The junta is quite desperate for international support, and it knows how and where it can get it.
- Notice that Erdogan’s language is also forceful. Erdogan has said that if “They say my criticism is harsh, I assume it is not as harsh as phosphorus bombs or fire from tanks … I am reacting as a human and a Muslim.” He has also called for Israel’s UN membership to be canceled if they continue to ignore pertinent UN resolutions. This is neo-Ottomanism at work, and it is where Turkey will be for the foreseeable future. Turkey is spreading its hand in the Middle East, partially the result of the slow down in its EU membership efforts and partially the result of very serious and expanding security and economic interests in the Gulf and Levant, to say nothing of North Africa (in Algeria in particular).
- For Algeria: I wrote last month about rumors that Lamine Zeroual might run in the April elections: This is not the case, as I suspected and determined in Algeria. Said Sadi and the RCD as a whole will boycott the election, calling it merely a base for “national humiliation”. The RCD also refused to support the parliamentary resolution in support of Gaza. In this it was alone. The reasoning? That the resolution represented “alibi activism” and was removed from Algeria’s broader institutional and social crises, which in the RCD’s view deserve more attention. He also added that the resolution was not prepared with the participation of all parties and would therefore be disingenuous. While Sadi has a point, I doubt this will help the party gain broader traction in the country, especially given that Algerians almost uniformly support the Palestinians heads or tails (days ago, El Khabar was reporting about Palestinians in Tebessa dying of broken hearts after hearing about the Gaza slaughter) and that failure to do so does not help any political movement, except in the most hardline Kabyle quarters.
A general question for discussion: It seems that over the last decade, whenever anyone has looked to Egypt for leadership in the region it either provides none or fumbles. Is it still justified to call Egypt “a [or the] leader in the Arab world”? Is that perception accurate, in a geopolitical and political sense, not in a cultural one: Whether Arabs still watch Egyptian serials or listen to Egyptian pop music is of no interest here. Instead, does Egypt still have the capacity, will, and competence to project its political influence into the broader Arab world, particularly in times of crisis?