A Mauritania Outlook

SUMMARY: In December this blogger spoke to small audiences about some of the issues facing Mauritania going into 2013. This post is built on the bullet-point notes prepared for these presentations, which were open to the public and represent only his views. This blogger is often more pessimistic than others (bias, admitted) and anticipates an eventful year in Mauritania. Protest movements are likely to grow in size and intensity. In thinking about Mauritania at this stage it is important remember that in trying for the best case it is possible to produce the worst. Much depends on whether fair elections are held and if the government fulfills its responsibilities to fill constitutionally mandated offices. At the same time, elections or appointments regarded as suspect by opposition currents may reinforce stalemate and gridlock. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that increasing western support for Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz will feed into existing opposition sentiments that regard the current regime as illegitimate and the international community as more or less complicit in its exploit and excesses. The strong likelihood that Mauritania will be drawn into the French/ECOWAS-led intervention (this construction is deliberate) in northern Mali increases this possibility as Ould Abdel Aziz is likely to continue be seen as a basically reliable partner in regional counter-terrorism efforts (for a summary of this view in the American press see here; for a Mauritanian rebuttal of this line of thinking see here). Furthermore, the president’s reputation and relationship with the military may be a source of further instability emerging from potential war casualties, internal personal and political disagreements and potential shifts in the political scene. Trouble can be avoided but outsiders have serious challenges to ponder and should not assume away or downplay the very significant risks in the country stemming from basic qualities in its leadership and political system.

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Mechanizations in Mauritania: Reports

After a month with President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in hospital in France, members of Mauritania’s ruling party, opposition and military appear to be growing impatient. Early November saw the first mass protests since the president was shot in early October and Mauritania’s generals met on 17 October in a reportedly tense meeting during which the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mohamed Ould Ghazouani came under pressure from some attendees to take a more assertive political role, which Ghazouani reportedly resisted. Articles in Essirage and al-Akhbar, two Mauritanian Arabic-language news sites, recently published reports describing parliamentary mechanizations that might lead to major changes in the political landscape in coming days and weeks. The report discusses efforts by members of parliament to find a way ‘out of the constitutional vacuum’. One should note how some external analyses of the situation in Mauritania over the last year have elided or ignored its constitutional dramas, set in motion largely by the president with the help of parts of the opposition (through passivity or inertia), not least the failure to hold parliamentary elections on time which has meant that the political system has been more or less extra-constitutional since about last October. Continue reading

RE: The ‘Accidental’ Shooting of the Mauritanian President

Summary. Some confusion exists around the shooting of the Mauritanian president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. The post speculates about the possibility of a coup or assassination attempt on the basis of a number of rumors about potential motivations and scenarios behind the incident based on the current political environment and does not claim to offer a conclusive judgment. However, it is unlikely that the current situation does not present ambitious men with opportunities to take action and take what they want. Or not. Continue reading

Chart: Some Mauritanian responses to the Libyan crisis

Here is a chart mapping some of the responses to the Libyan crisis (thus far). The PDF is here.

It should be said: virtually everyone with eyes, balanced minds and souls seems to be repulsed and disgusted by the indiscriminate and unrelenting violence (and vulgar threats of violence) taking place in Libya right now. That includes many, many Mauritanians. Readers will remember that this blog has long taken special interest in Libya’s role in Mauritania’s recent foreign policy since 2008. Thus it is only natural that this blog might try to account for responses to the crisis there using mind mapping software and obnoxious colors.

Note that both parliamentary majority leader Khalil Ould Tayeb and Foreign Minister Naha Mint Mouknass both have exceedingly close ties to Qadhafi; Mint Mouknass in particular enjoys the personal favor of Qadhafi and both have enjoyed his financial patronage. The “pro-Qadhafi parties” are those that pledged allegiance to Qadhafi in 2010 (Ould Abdel Aziz himself has been strongly backed by Qadhafi since the Gaza crisis). More on this in a later post though. Libya was essential in stabilizing Ould Abel Aziz’s foreign policy following the 2008 coup (especially after Ould Abdel Aziz broke relations with Israel during the Gaza Crisis), as well as helping to build parts of his political alliance and helping the General balance western, Arab and African reprisals. Qadhafi attempted to intervene on Ould Abdel Aziz behalf and was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Mauritania after the coup, claiming that elections and coups were no different from one another in a speech, causing moans and groans in the opposition at the time. Ould Abdel Aziz (as well as many opposition and pro-Ould Abdel Aziz factions) made many important visits to Tripoli during the post-coup period with important effects on Mauritania’s foreign policy in the Arab region and its domestic politics. This period was followed on this blog with interest.

One might speculate that if Qadhafi were to fall it could lead to an important realignment in Mauritania’s foreign policy with respect to Morocco and Algeria and its relations with its west African neighbors (with whom relations are relative poor on a leader-to-leader basis and which have been in some cases stabilized by Qadhafi’s intervention). Surely Ould Abdel Aziz’s very public relationship with Qadhafi is damaging to his own standing with an increasingly unsettled population and an opposition long bothered by his tendency to brush them off. Ould Abdel Aziz has been seen as as increasingly autocratic and opportunistic by his critics and recent events at Fassala and over scheduled youth protests (which the government has obstructed) have led to violent clashes between citizens and police and threats of sit-ins from students and youth groups. If Ould Abdel Aziz loses Qadhafi, his important and rich patron, he may lose his ability to hold on to some of his allies in parliament and the political parties; he may also lose some steam in recruiting new allies if he no longer has the financial and political backing of Qadhafi. And if Qadhafi remains in power his brand, and perhaps by extension Ould Abdel Aziz’s brand, may be badly stained by the blood of the many Libyans that have been shot, dismembered, tortured and otherwise obliterated over the last several days as Mauritanians and the whole rest of the world watches. This will be relevant in upcoming municipal and parliamentary elections. If Qadhafi remains in power his money might still be powerful but this recent crisis might be able to do to Ould Abdel Aziz’s relationship with Qadhafi’s Libya what the Gulf War did to Maaouiya Ould Tayya’s relationship with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. One shudders to attempt to predict big shifts or big things but there are some real possibilities for important shifts in the region with Qadhafi gone; Mauritania is a place where these might be seen easily. These things are always uncertain though.

Also note that certain important political parties are missing; these will be added with more time to add and search for statements and communiques. Readers are welcome to point such statements (as well as off clarifications, corrections, etc.) in the comments section (in fact, please do help contribute to and improve this — especially where students and unions are concerned). Links to the news articles used to build this chart will be posted shortly, either within a brief narrative or listing.

AQIM assassination attempt on O. Abdel Aziz

Below is a vague timeline of the alleged AQIM assassination attempt on Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. It appears to have not gotten very far:

  1. Three AQIM vehicles were sighted near Nema over the weekend and the the Army, Gendarmerie and National Police tracked them from the air as they moved from the border region to the capital;
  2. Government forces discovered one truck at R’Kiz, Trarza and arrested three men carrying explosives, two Mauritanians and one from Guinea Bissau;
  3. Government forces encountered two AQIM trucks and engaged them in a gun fight outside of Nouakchott, one of which exploded (wounding 13 soldiers from BASEP, the Republican Guard) and another of which sped off and whose location is not yet known;
  4. Gun fire has been reported in parts of the capital, though no specific geographic details have come from the press in this regard, except that an Air Force barracks by the airport in Nouakchott was attacked by unknown gunmen;
  5. AQIM released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack and saying that the operation was intended to assassinate the Mauritanian President by car bomb as he returned from a visit to Ethiopia;
  6. The Defense Minister claims that one of the trucks was headed for the French Embassy, one targeted a military barracks in the Sixth Military Region (Nouakchott), which may explain the gunshots reported at the Air Force barracks, and a the third “providing logistical support for the other two.” Wether the two neutralized trucks were the bomb cars is unclear from news reports. No information on what the third car might be carrying. Continue reading

Mauritanian MPs duke it out: Thoughts

Yesterday, Jamil Ould Mansour and Slama Ould Abdellahi broke into what has been variously described as a “brawl” and “a violent fight lasting several minutes” after a back and forth of insults and profanities during a parliamentary session on the civil status law. Al-Akhbar, which tends to give favorable coverage to Ould Mansour’s Tawassoul party (relevant because other accounts are more ambiguous about which MP made it physical), described the incident as an “attack” by Ould Abdellahi. According to their account, Ould Mansour exceeded his time limit while making a speech. Ould Abdellahi made an intervention to protest the excess. The two began to bicker and the committee chairman called a recess for the two to cool off and reconcile. Reports are unclear as to who began the pushing and shoving but after a few minutes of struggle, parliamentarians from the ruling Union for the Republic (UPR, which also happens to be Ould Abdellahi’s party) “urged Ould Mansour not to respond to what he considered an insult”. The same report paraphrases Ould Mansour as expressing “his regret at the tendency of some parties toward violence rather than dialogue or discussion.” CRIDEM writes that Ould Abdellahi made an intervention during which various MPs called out at in opposition; Ould Mansour then made a series of comments deriding the composition of a committee looking at the marital status law which “did not take into account the different components of Mauritanian society.” During the recess, Ould Mansour come upon Ould Abdellahi “n a very tense discussion interspersed with malicious comments, before coming to blows.” Beyond the personal dimension, there are likely other factors at work.

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