A well-meaning Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for Hanevy Ould Dahah’s release, publish 1 February, appears to have played into the hands of Ould Abdel Aziz and company. The article was mistranslated (one can only conclude this was done deliberately) and distributed on the street and inside the courthouse as Ould Dahah was being tried and then sentenced to two years imprisonment on trumped-up charges. The thrust of the mistranslation is to the effect that Ould Dahah “left Islam” at age 18; the article states clearly that he in fact “broke with the Islamists” at age 18. Its intention is to portray the (former, he retired last week) editor of Taqadoumy as an apostate, a kafir and so on. A similar attempt was made when Ould Dahah went on a hunger strike at the beginning of the year; that effort was linked to “suicide” and therefore declared un-Islamic by clerics, at which point Ould Dahah gave up the strike. As one who has met Hanevy, there is no doubt that he is a Muslim, whatever his political views might be.
Who are the translators? The analysis by a University of Nouakchott English professor (drafted by Taqadoumy) has it that their translation bears little relation to the connotation, meaning or intention of the English text. RIM Media also put up a “disclaimer” regarding the potentially dangerous implications of the false translation. Taqadoumy has posted a full Arabic translation on its site (as well as the original English text).
The translators themselves are thought to be a set of public relations and communications wolves well introduced in official circles. Many think that this shows that the regime is increasingly receding into an increasingly thuggish and arbitrary style of rule. None of this should surprise any observer. In the writing circles there are suspicions about Who Done It. One cannot be certain as of yet. But two names especially float to the top among speculators. This should not be taken for accusation; it merely reflects suspicions relayed here by Mauritanians.
The ring leader is believed to be Abdellah Ould Hormatallah, was an ex-publicist under the Ould Sheikh Abdellahi government; one of his biggest projects was to construct a news website to promote the then-president. In time around the 2008 coup, it was used to promote Ould Abdel Aziz, though he had gone off to work for the head of parliament, Mohsen Ould Hadj as a PR secretary. He has published articles in al-Quds al-Arabi and appeared as a commentator on France24 after he 6 August coup (one can guess what his current political orientation is based on his argumentation there; those without Arabic can get a summary of the debate here, in French). His partners are also believed to include Kemal Ould Mohamedou (the little brother of Ould Abdel Aziz’s junta-era foreign minister, and his former partner in hip-hop shenanigans), whose “Generation Aziz” group put out the pamphlet “100 Reasons Why Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz Must be the Next President of Mauritania” during the 2009 election. These are men with deep ties to the regime and the Ould Abdel Aziz campaign.
Since then he has worked behind the scenes in a variety of posts for various junta and regime figures. He is especially close to the General and his Foreign Minister, Naha Mint Mouknass (with whom he is regularly seen around the capital likely in an advisory capacity). He occupies a similar position as the various Saudi journalists that drive the “Angry Arab” so mad. The idea is to take whatever opportunity possible to pain Ould Dahah as a non-Muslim, to sap public support and sympathy. But the major journalists associations and unions in Nouakchott have reiterated their support, as well as has the Committee to Project Journalists and others. So these efforts appear to have been dented by both common sense and the fact that the so-called “translation” of the WSJ piece attributes statements to Ould Dahah that simply do not appear in the original. These do not come down to semantic problems, but glaring, malicious word choices based on a political agenda, design to undermine free expression in Mauritania and that re-enforce the image of the General’s government as sitting somewhere in the proto-despotic phase of regime crystallization.