This post is a quick and careless update on some of the stories covered in the last post on Mauritania. Posts on the Arab uprisings, Libya, some book reviews/lists and the new Tunisian Ba’th party will follow soon.
- Government/opposition dialogue: Weeks ago Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, speaker of the lower house of parliament, head of the APP and leader of Mauritania’s opposition coalition (COD) took a tour of central Mauritania. Ould Boulkheir spent his time dealing with divisions within his party over strategy and coming up with an approach to dialogue with the president. President Ould Abdel Aziz, for his part, announced his willingness to talk to the opposition in a television interview on 6 June. Ould Boulkheir met with the president on 22 June and came out of the meeting “optimistic“. Previous attempts at dialogue had been halting or failed partly from mutual stubbornness (a result of Ould Abdel Aziz’s comfort after the 2009 elections and the security situation in 2010 and the opposition’s view of those trends). Recent moves ahead are likely influenced, at least in part, by the surge in protests among workers and youth this year (youth protests have somewhat weakened recently while labor is going relatively strong), which have changed the tone in public discourse and put pressure on the president and the opposition to produce something at the national level. A few smaller parties engaged the president last week as well. Tensions within the opposition parties have probably also egged on the talks (factions led by younger men within the APP (note that the APP is in effect an alliance of several trends among the Haratine, anti-slavery groups, progressive Moors, and some others and has seen defections in the last several months), for instance have criticized the party leadership for being too controlling and not producing enough progress despite Ould Boulkheir’s position in parliament and in the opposition; similar generational dynamics are playing out in the other opposition parties, as younger members grow impatient and demand more dynamic leadership; hence, for example, threats of a boycott of October’s election from Ahmed Ould Daddah’s RFD. Thus, it is not certain what the talks will yield or if the president will satisfy the opposition’s conditions ). Sahara Media cites an anonymous source informed on the meeting between Ould Abdel Aziz and Ould Boulkheir as saying the opposition’s “road map” to dialogue with the government includes four points, conditions which must be met for talks to go ahead:
- the end of harassment of opposition demonstrators, particularly youth protesters (i.e., 25 February protesters, trade unionists, etc.);
- equal opportunities for personnel from the ruling party and the opposition for recruitment into government posts (note that a key complaint for the opposition since 2009 has been the president’s refusal to form a unity government including opposition individuals);
- the opening of public media outlets for use by the opposition;
- the adoption of the Dakar agreement as the reference for any dialogue between the government and the opposition.
- Mauritania and Mali joint operations against AQIM. The operations are to take place over weeks to fight “organized crime and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” according to Malian officials cited in media reports. These efforts are focused on the Wagadou forest area near the border. Mauritania and Mali had a brief falling out in 2010 over Nouakchott’s view that Bamako was not doing enough to fight AQIM, with Mauritania cutting its diplomatic ties with Mali in protest. Recent rapprochement is likely the result of a combination of factors including nudging from France and America and Algeria. The Malians have been engaged in a general offensive against AQIM in the Timbuktu region for several weeks, moving large numbers of troops and equipment, allegedly pushing them into the Tigherghar area of Kidal (read about it here, here and here). More collaboration is likely in coming weeks especially in light of ambitious plans announced for a large, pan-Sahel force to fight AQIM and criminal networks in the region (in which Algeria is likely to do much of the heavy lifting; the Malians and Mauritanians, being smaller states with more sensitive frontier problems, will probably intensify their efforts as a way of keeping the Algerians from being over-active). In related news, Mauritanian courts sentenced eight men to five year prison terms this week for supplying and working for AQIM.
- Mauritanian youth launch campaign to preserve fisheries. A recent European parliament report released immediately before negotiations between the EU and Mauritania over fisheries voiced serious concerns over over fishing. Mauritanian fishermen routinely find themselves fishing further and further out at sea to get meaningful catches, contributing to increasing discontent among people in the fish business. The recent deal with China has spurred a campaign to preserve Mauritania’s fisheries (“National Campaign to Save the Fisheries”; French name: Sauvegarder Ressources halieutiques; Arabic name: الحملة الوطنية لإنقاذ الثروة السمكية). The campaign’s website is here and includes information on protests, the Chinese fish deal, Mauritanian fish, and other related information. Its Facebook page is here. Expect more ruckus over Sino-Mauritanian relations in the near future: the drama caused by the fisheries deal caused the Chinese embassy to comment on the controversy and take unusual efforts to manage its image in Mauritania. Even opposition figures historically seen sympathetic to China (Mohamed Mustafa Ould Badreddine, for example, though such perceptions are hold overs from the 1970s, before China’s current economic strategy in Africa) have shown up at protests against the deal and been vocal in their opposition to its term. The whole tone of conversations about relations with China has changed among many young people as a result of the deal. The opposition and youth movement may try to capitalize on the uproar to push concessions from the ruling party or the president.
- Assorted other: The Emir of Qatar is set to visit Nouakchott. Libya, economic aid, Mauritania’s UNSC bid and perhaps al-Jazeera are likely to be on the agenda at this meeting. Mauritania’s recent relations with Iran may also be an issue of interest here. (On Iran there is a bit of gossip that the Mauritanians were offended when the Iranian government offered them a space for their embassy in what they saw as a dingy part of Tehran, the sentiment being that the “this is what you’re giving us?” after the Mauritanians undertook significant comparative political risk in establishing relations with the Iranians (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf donors were very much bothered by this). The Mauritanians are apparently trying to get another spot for their embassy.)