Here are some highlights and thoughts from the last week in Mauritania (another post on issues beyond what is below is coming down the pipeline):
Five of nineteen Mauritanians on trial for terrorism charges were sentenced this week. Among the nineteen are Sidi Ould Sidina, Mohamed Ould Chabarnou and Maarouf Ould Hiba who stand accused of murdering four French tourists at Aleg in 2007 who will go on trial on Sunday. The men are discussed here, here and here. In addition, one of the group’s prominent ideologues, Brahim Ould Ely (“Saharaoui”) was sentenced to ten years in prison. Others managed lesser terms and hard labor. One was acquitted. The sentences are relatively light, though some feel the process was unfair or in the words of Sheikh Mohamed Hassan Ould Dedew, “unjust” and “contrary to the President and the atmosphere of dialogue”. Aqlame published an article on 18 May declaring that “Dialogue is Futile,” writing that “has the government has backtracked on its approach to dialogue” and questioning the government’s involvement with the “global war on terrorism”. It concludes by worrying that the government is “returning to the first position of taking any open confrontation with al-Qaeda, relying on force alone to achieve victory.” Depending on Ould Sidina, Chabarnou and Ould Hiba’s sentences, it will be more clear as to where the government stance with regards to these criticisms and its relationship to the Islamist tendency (which it has been cultivating since last winter).
In news related to AQIM, France is widely believed to be pressuring Mauritania into releasing prisoners to get the terrorist group to release a Frenchmen kidnapped in Niger . This is said to be one of the main purposes of Alan Joyandet’s (the French Minister of Cooperation and Francophonie) visit to Mauritania earlier in the week. The French would like the Mauritanians to do a deal similar to Mali’s earlier this year.
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the famous tele-Sheikh, is visiting Mauritania this week. He is the guest of Sheikh Dedew, which greatly increases Dedew’s credibility within the religious movement and beyond. It also distracts some attention from the The pair have made and will make several appearances together, including one at the Olympic stadium in Nouakchott. Qaradawi’s remarks one such event touched on a variety of subjects including economic development, “the force of Islamic civilization,” the importance of the Muslim diaspora (specifically mentioning China), the need for Muslim unity, Qur’an recitation competitions and so on. He was met by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on arrival, and praised the president for shutting down the Israeli embassy and his “interest in social justice and the poor”. The video of this reception can be seen below.
General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani hosted a dinner for Qaradawi. Ould Ghazouani is one of the main centers of power in the regime (easily the second most powerful officer) and the dinner represents the government’s attempt to establish and maintain bona fides with the religious tendency. Like much of the population, Ould Ghazouani’s tribe, many members of which are important patrons of the religious movement, was excited for the occasion. Qaradawi enjoys a wide following in Mauritania. Ould Abdel Aziz’s and Ould Ghazouani’s public associations with him are designed to improve the regime’s standing with the religious movement and the population at large by projecting an image of piety and populism.