Taqadoumy has an interview with participants in the government’s Islamist prison dialogue. Here Ould Sidina outlines his views on the dialogue, his opinions about media coverage of the process and AQIM in general; he says: “I am not a spokesman for al-Qaeda, but a simple soldier.” His ilk will not “work for any government [referring to a question about his trouble with the Abdellahi government] this one or another so long as they do not govern by the laws of God.” He reports “no dissent” in AQIM’s ranks, though one wonders how true this can be and how knowledgable he can be after his time in prison. He rejects media reports that say he expressed willingness to go to northern Mali during the dialogue sessions. Read it all here (in Arabic).
Meanwhile, government officials are emphasizing that the process is not reconciliation or negotiation, but an “intellectual dialogue” and a “thoughtful conversation on certain ideas and concepts that need some degree of reflection, correction, and a fact-based discussion.” The whole process should also be looked at in a broader picture where President Ould Abdel Aziz is attempting to grow a base, and build pillars and sectors of support for his regime. The Islamist community is a primary target for this, especially in Tawassoul’s following and increasingly the Salafist tendency (in terms of efforts, though not necessarily results). His outreach to and use of Sheikh Dedew must be understood this way; Tawassoul’s cooperation with the government must also be seen in this context. The real issue here is not combating extremism or fighting terrorism per se, but establishing a system of reciprocity by setting up favors (which must naturally be returned) in the short-term and mechanisms of dependency in the medium/long-term. There are rumors that some prisoners may be released in the near future — a sign that there is an attempt to coopt such elements. At this stage that there are elements in government considering that option speaks to intent; if it plays out it speaks to an important choice in regards to house Ould Abdel Aziz will deal with the Islamist movement. His over all approach is a departure from the military’s past to be sure.