Yacoub Ould Dahoud, the Mauritanian self-immolator, has passed away in Morocco where is his family sent him for medical treatment. The Mauritanian President was forced to comment publicly and assure his audience that events in Mauritania were “different from what is happening in other countries.” Sympathetic Mauritanians are flocking to the Nouakchott airport to greet his remains, causing nervousness in the government. Young people and police clashed over food prices in the capital at the end of the week. The government appears spooked by Ould Dahoud’s self-immolation both because it was so conspicuous and because his suicide note, circulating on the Internet, is an aggressive attack on the legitimacy of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s presidency. The regime is understandably sensitive over challenges to its legitimacy given the background of the 2008 coup and the circumstances around the 2009 elections in civil and political society. At the same time fear of a second Tunisia is spreading among Arab leaders, especially those where copycats self-immolations on the line of Mohamed Bouazizi have taken place. This is definitely an issue to watch.
UPDATE: Nasser Weddady’s post on Ould Dahoud translates his suicide note in full and highlights the point on tribalism made on this blog earlier. As noted in the previous post here, it makes no reference to any tribal grievance contrary to reports in the media and from government officials claiming that Ould Dahoud was motivated by a sense that his tribe was mistreated by the government (allegedly a response to the president’s anti-corruption campaign). The note is distinctly political and Ould Dahoud’s background does not suggest a personal, material grievance with regime beyond the political ones listed. Those who commit suicide are usually abnormal in some way; the bulk of the evidence shows Ould Dahoud’s suicide was a deliberately political statement about the state of affairs in Mauritania and that it was probably inspired by Mohamed Bouazizi. This perception is strengthened by the fact that Ould Dahoud came from a well off family and was known as a pro-democracy activist among his peers, according to Mauritanian sources. In any event, his act has been lionized and received well by a certain set of young Mauritanians although those of different political persuasions have had different responses. One notices on Facebook, for example, that those who are supportive of the president tend to comment more critically (if not maliciously) on the event where as those whose profile pictures show a photograph of the burning man and agree with his manifesto tend to be sympathetic to opposition parties and personalities almost uniformly.