Muamar al-Qadhafi, the Brother Leader of the Libyan Revolution and current Chairman of the African Union, will be visiting Mauritania next week. The visit has presented the Mauritanian junta with a host of problems. A simple visit to Nouakchott would confer too much legitimacy on the junta, considering Libya’s presidency of the AU, and would not provide the Islamic symbolism Qadhafi wants. Ensuring Qadhafi’s security is a big task and the Libyans have taken to measures bordering on subterfuge to make sure that the visit goes off without a bang or boom: Even attempting to send in security teams ahead of the visit without notifying the Mauritanians or registering their weapons. On the Mauritanian side, young men in Nouakchott are primping and lathering on their finest cologne in hopes of seducing some of Qadhafi’s famed “Amazons.”
The visit is intended to illustrate Libya’s role as a mediator, and to allow Qadhafi to lead prayers in an Islamically significant locale during مولد النبي the Prophet’s Birthday, puffing up his religious credentials. It also signals the direction in which Libya’s Mauritania policy is moving, regardless of the official AU line.
Qadhafi was originally slated to visit the historic city of Chinguitti in central Mauritania, a town known for Islamic learning and knowledge and home to vast libraries containing works pertaining to the Maliki madhab dominant in North and West Africa, along with copious piles of classical Islamic manuscripts. But there are no paved roads leading to Chinguitti. Concerns about the rough terrain and the city’s remoteness sidelined it as the site for the Qadhafi’s visit, however. The lesson there seems to be that for his tropical fruit desert garb, the Brother Leader is no real bedouin.
The planned destination as of now is Azougui, north west of Atar. Both Azougui and Chinguitti are in Adrar Province, and the town was most likely chosen because pavement leads to Atar, making the journey smoother. Azougui is the desert base from which the Almoravids set forth the conquer much of the medieval Maghreb. To be seen praying there would serve Libyan propaganda, putting the country’s leader (but not “president”) in the setting of one of Africa’s greatest indigenous empires. Besides this, it claims neither a large population nor major political significance other than that it is in Mauritania. From a security standpoint, its terrain makes it vulnerable to snipers: It is bordered on its eastern and southeastern sides by plateaus, and RPG fire from their tops would easily devastate the small town and those in it (see below). No wonder the Libyans have dispatched large numbers of security personnel by bus and by plane to the country. Some 200 men arrived at the Nouakchott airport entering without registering their weapons. There seem to be business opportunities as a result: A Mauritanian youth was arrested in Nouakchott for trying to sell weapons to the Libyans. This has caused the junta to grumble, but not changing the fact that it is not well placed to complain.
The visit appears to say that the result of the Libyan track has lead back to the junta. Sources in Nouakchott say that many of the political actors in the country are already on the same page, and the FNDD are the only ones whose price has yet to be named. And even in that camp, there may be movement with appointments being made that may bring important elements into an agreement.