Mauritania’s Society on the Mali War: Niet!! « Dekhnstan

Mauritania’s Society on the Mali War: Niet!! « Dekhnstan

Nasser Weddady gives the Mauritanian perspective:

Mauritanian public opinion remains dead set against their country’s involvement in Mali. Across the political and social spectrum, not a single meaningful voice called for Mauritania to intervene militarily. Worse, Mauritanian Salafis implicitly endorsed the Jihadis in Mali with an incendiary fatwa. Thus, it is no longer possible to present the Malian war as a foreign matter, it has become an internal political battle. Despite all of this, The “president” General Aziz unilaterally put the country on the path to war.

In the best tradition of a tribal chief, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz made a potentially fateful decision in a meeting with his French counterpart.  He told the Gauls’ chief François Hollande, that should the chief of the Malians ask for his help, he shall oblige. So is the mindset governing the country’s destiny. This should be a cause for serious concern for anyone contemplating a Mauritanian entry in the conflict.

General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz’s meeting on Tuesday with François Hollande in Abu Dhabi shook the country’s political class out of its wait-and-see posture. Till that point, only the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood had declared -unsurprisingly- its vehement opposition to what it calls “the French invasion” of Mali.

As customary with General Aziz, he did not bother issuing any communiqués about the substance of his meeting with the French president. He even excluded his press adviser from the meeting altogether. Mauritanian state media reported the meeting as a routine discussion.  It was rather François Hollande who dropped the bombshell during this own press conference: “Mauritania is ready to take its responsibilities vis-à-vis the terrorist threat should the Malian state issue such a request.”

I wonder how this all works with the Maghrebi regional dynamics, with Mauritanian being allied with Morocco, vis-a-vis Algeria.

Links for 08.09.09 to 08.13.09

Moises Naim -- A New Recipe for Autocrats Around The World - washingtonpost.com | Some good stuff there, but he goes to easy on Mossad and the CIA - they would not be scapegoats if it wasn't sometimes true! The Groping Elephant in the Room: Sexual Harassment in the Arab World « the long slumber | More from The Long Slumber on sexual harassment in the Arab word - recommended, thought-provoking reading. شارك - حوار مفتوح لشباب مصر مع جمال مبارك | Tell me this man is not running for president... Fiji Water: Spin the Bottle | Mother Jones | Nothing to do with the Middle East, but outrageous. BBC NEWS | Middle East | Frustrated dreams of young Egyptians | Living in the City of the Dead: "I dream of leaving this place. One day we will buy a new home and pretend we have lived there all our lives." Get Good at Arabic « MediaShack | Good tips on picking up the lingo - this method really works although it means you must be disciplined and dedicated (and have no other job, ideally). Even if it might seem a tiny bit exploitative. 'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Agha, Malley, and some other ideas | Helena Cobban's critique of the Malley/Agha op-ed, saying it's quite banal. Well yes and no: it's banal because experts and many Israelis and Palestinians have known it for a long time (that it's about 1948), but it's still important to reiterate the point because politicians (in Israel/Palestine, among the two diasporas and among foreigners) still pretend otherwise. Op-Ed Contributors - The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything - NYTimes.com | Malley and Agha say it's all about 1948: "For years, virtually all attention has been focused on the question of a future Palestinian state, its borders and powers. As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees’ rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel." Les ministres israéliens divisés sur la libération de Marwan Barghouti - Proche-Orient - Le Monde.fr | Israelis pols split about whether or not to free Marwan Barghouti. Dar Al Hayat - Ayoon Wa Azan (Why Are Men Allowed to Wear Dresses?) | Jihad al-Khazen suggests (jokingly?) that Gulf Arabs buy up the Observer, which is shutting down (alas, although perhaps they shouldn't have spent so much money on stupid lifestyle supplements and Nigella Lawson pageantry.) Will the leader of Lebanon's Druze really form an alliance with Hezbollah? - By Lee Smith - Slate Magazine | Weird Slate story in whcih Walid Jumblatt is celebrated as hero, disowns his old friends, and they react: "His former American friends are not amused. "I don't believe for a minute that he's sorry he met with the dreaded neocons, and I'm sorry he feels somehow compelled to say that," said Elliott Abrams, the Bush administration's deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy. "I just hope he keeps sending all of us that nice wine from the Bekaa."" Three soldiers, Al-Qaeda leader killed in Yemeni clashes - AL SHORFA | Note that this site is funded by US Central Command. I don't know much about Yemen, but isn't it rather odd to refer to the insurgents in Yemen to al-Qaeda (as opposed to people motivated by local grievances, as a recent International Crisis Group report argued)? Le Figaro - International : Mauritanie : attentat suicidedevant l'ambassade de France | Suicide bombing outside French embassy in Mauritania.
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Links for 08.09.09 to 08.12.09

Get Good at Arabic « MediaShack | Good tips on picking up the lingo - this method really works although it means you must be disciplined and dedicated (and have no other job, ideally). Even if it might seem a tiny bit exploitative. 'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Agha, Malley, and some other ideas | Helena Cobban's critique of the Malley/Agha op-ed, saying it's quite banal. Well yes and no: it's banal because experts and many Israelis and Palestinians have known it for a long time (that it's about 1948), but it's still important to reiterate the point because politicians (in Israel/Palestine, among the two diasporas and among foreigners) still pretend otherwise. Op-Ed Contributors - The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything - NYTimes.com | Malley and Agha say it's all about 1948: "For years, virtually all attention has been focused on the question of a future Palestinian state, its borders and powers. As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees’ rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel." Les ministres israéliens divisés sur la libération de Marwan Barghouti - Proche-Orient - Le Monde.fr | Israelis pols split about whether or not to free Marwan Barghouti. Dar Al Hayat - Ayoon Wa Azan (Why Are Men Allowed to Wear Dresses?) | Jihad al-Khazen suggests (jokingly?) that Gulf Arabs buy up the Observer, which is shutting down (alas, although perhaps they shouldn't have spent so much money on stupid lifestyle supplements and Nigella Lawson pageantry.) Will the leader of Lebanon's Druze really form an alliance with Hezbollah? - By Lee Smith - Slate Magazine | Weird Slate story in whcih Walid Jumblatt is celebrated as hero, disowns his old friends, and they react: "His former American friends are not amused. "I don't believe for a minute that he's sorry he met with the dreaded neocons, and I'm sorry he feels somehow compelled to say that," said Elliott Abrams, the Bush administration's deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy. "I just hope he keeps sending all of us that nice wine from the Bekaa."" Three soldiers, Al-Qaeda leader killed in Yemeni clashes - AL SHORFA | Note that this site is funded by US Central Command. I don't know much about Yemen, but isn't it rather odd to refer to the insurgents in Yemen to al-Qaeda (as opposed to people motivated by local grievances, as a recent International Crisis Group report argued)? Le Figaro - International : Mauritanie : attentat suicidedevant l'ambassade de France | Suicide bombing outside French embassy in Mauritania.
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Mauritania's presidential elections

Mauritania is voting for a new president today, after elections were postponed last month to allow for a political compromise between the junta that seized power in a coup nearly a year ago and the main opposition. The main opponent of junta leader Mohammad Ould Abdel Aziz is Ely Ould Mohammad Vall, who led the 2005 coup (known as the better coup), although Ahmed Ould Daddah is also a possibility and Kal's favorite. Kal also has more analysis. Yes, no one cares about Mauritania, but the elections may allow for an easing of sanctions in place since the coup, more foreign investment in a growing oil industry and more. Which might, if there is some balance of power rather than junta rule in what appears to be a genuinely politically divided country, be good for Mauritanians. Le Monde also has more in French. Update: Fraud reports, Abdel Aziz way ahead.
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Links for 07.13.09 to 07.14.09

Ould Abdel Aziz & the Jews « The Moor Next Door | On Mauritania's junta leader campaign against the Israeli embassy. TRANSCRIPT: Obama says Africa Command Focused on Partnership to Address Common Challenges | Obama's Ghana speech; bits on AFRICOM highlighted. From the official site. Conflicts Forum » Tehran troubles | Alastair Crooke, has an article which offers analysis of the recent events in Iran but is dead wrong on the 'Western media' not understanding Moussavi was a regime-approved candidate. He also only seems to quote Khameini backers and their foreign allies. His stuff on inter-regime rivalry is interesting but really do we need to go on about the "myth of a color revolution" (few bought it) or entirely dismiss the protest movement as simply North Tehran? Disappointing. Arab Reform Bulletin - Whither Economic Reform? | I wanted to post properly about this piece on economic reform in Egypt, but in the meantime will just link. Post tomorrow, inchallah... A Technocrat Steadily Gains Influence in West Bank, but Questions Remain - washingtonpost.com | About Salam Fayyad. Times reporter recounts life in Iran prison - Washington Times | Iason Athanasiadis recounts his ordeal in Iran.
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Links for 07.12.09

Iran's rebellious students: Go underground | The Economist | On the continuing restraints on political organization and communication after the protests have died off (well some continue). Trouble in the United Arab Emirates: The perils of autocracy | The Economist | On the UAE's economic troubles and their political consequences. برنامج زيارة الرئيس إلى الولايات المتحدة - بوابة الشروق | Book Review: 'The Attack on the Liberty' by James Scott - washingtonpost.com | Review of a new book on the USS Liberty. Scoundrel or Statesman? The case of Ely Ould Mohamed Vall « The Moor Next Door | Kal on Ely Ould Mohamed Vall of Mauritania, a presidential hopeful who backed the democratic coup but now opposes the second, not-so-democratic, follow-up coup.
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Links for 07.05.09

FT.com / Comment / Opinion - Chinese exports could crush fragile markets | With consequences in Arab world, sub-Saharan Africa. Sic Semper Tyrannis : Harper on Ross, Clinton et al | An argument that Dennis Ross' move to NSC is a demotion, plus Hillary vs. Barack stuff. 'Aqoul: Palmyra's Last New Month Post? | Is Aqoul.com dying? I know how difficult it is to keep momentum going on a blog, but let's hope not, come on guys... Shishani on Salafi-Jihadism in the Levant — jihadica | On the Salafasation of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Egyptian chronicles: Gamal Mubarak ; The Prince of Upper Egypt | Will Assyut actually have a "Midan Gamal Mubarak"? A thing called “politics” carries on « The Moor Next Door | Another excellent post by Kal on Mauritanian politics Les « règles de l’art » et le prix d’un intellectuel (en Egypte) | Culture et politique arabes | A very good post on Egypt's state literary prizes and the politics of being nominated for them or accepting them, with an extra contribution on recent literary news (and the Farouq Hosni / UNESCO saga) by the august Richard Jacquemond. Bookmark this site, if you read French.
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Links for 06.28.09 to 06.29.09

Almasry Alyoum: Israel above all Constitutions | Magdi el-Gallad has a good column today about a German dignitary, lecturing Egyptians on secularism, refusing to answer a question about Israel's self-definition as a Jewish state. Mondoweiss: 'I think this is the most emotional event I've ever done' (Naomi Klein in Ramallah) | Philip Weiss has a recording of a Naomi Klein speech in Palestine, in support of the Boycott - Sanctions - Divestment (BDS) movement. Mauritanian political rivals reach accord; Abdellahi resigns: Magharebia.com | A resolution in sight:
Mauritania formed a transitional national unity government on Friday (June 26th) in Nouakchott, Journal Tahalil reported. International mediator Habib Kabachi was quoted as saying that the rival political poles had successfully reached "an accord on all points". In the presence of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, deposed president Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi officially resigned and signed the decree for the installation of a new Mauritanian cabinet. Mohamed Ould Moulaye Laghdaf was chosen to lead the transitional government. After signing the decree, Abdellahi called for unity among all Mauritanians and affirmed that the country would hold presidential elections next month.
Worth remembering that this was a mediation that did not significantly involve the West. Iran's Post-Election Uprising: Hopes & Fears Revealed | The story of Iran's elections, from the dissenters' viewpoint, told in the same comic book form as Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. Very, very cool. Mousavi remains defiant – Tehran Bureau | Letter from Mousavi to Guardian Council calls for annulment of elections on the grounds that electoral law was violated multiple times.
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Magharebia.com | Mauritanian rivals sign accord; former PM freed from prison

Magharebia.com | Mauritanian rivals sign accord; former PM freed from prison
Election postponed at last minute, Abdellahi released. Note this is a successful mediation by Senegal after the EU, Libya and Qatar failed (although they may have continued to play a role behind the scenes.) So here's to the African Union and regionalism.
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Three years and three days

So much for what we had grown used to thinking of, half-jokingly, as the Arab world's only democracy. Three years and three days after the coup that deposed a much-hated and brutal dictator, Mauritania's generals decided they would get rid of President Sidi Mohammed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, an ineffectual politician and undoubtedly bad leader who nonetheless had the merit of having been fairly elected. For the past six weeks, Mauritanian politics (which you will only hear about in the Western press when there's been a coup, which may be why they have them so often -- 10 in the last 50 years) had come to a standstill as MPs from the ruling party rebelled, governments fell or resigned, motions of no-confidence were threatened, and financial improprieties by the first lady were investigated. Outlandish claims of corruption were made (one I saw reported is that Abdellahi spent $2 billion on his family's travels, a figure which even the notoriously profligate King of Morocco doesn't reach), and more generally many Mauritanians appeared to be unhappy with problems such as rising jihadist violence that caused the cancellation of the Paris-Dakar earlier this year, poor handling of rocketing food prices (Mauritania regularly suffers from droughts and imports 70% of its food), and other ills. Dissident MPs were reportedly courting the military about doing something about all this, which did not please Abdellahi, who responded by firing the top four generals in the army. It so happened that there were the same people who had carried out the 2005 coup -- and indeed charged with protecting the president and the constitution -- so they were not about to let that happen. They arrested him and his prime minister, and repeated the same scenario as three years ago: formed a temporary "state council" to govern the country while they promised free and fair elections and the eventual restoration of normal constitutional rule. Except that this time it is a lot less easy to accept the military coup as a form of positive intervention. Even if Abdellahi was corrupt and ineffectual, so much symbolic capital has been spent on legitimizing the previous coup as democratic that justifying this one will be difficult. The suspension of foreign aid by the US, and probably soon the EU, are one sign that things are different. One thing that is important to remember is that the people behind the coup are not only the same ones as in 2005, but that they were also part of the ruling elite under the previous president, Ould Taya. One might even say that they are the same people who've been ruling for decades, more or less. It now seems that the legitimacy the 2005 coup has gone to their heads, and that they think they can intervene every time there's been a hiccup. So even while Mauritania was given an unlikely veneer of democracy, the army remained capable and willing to intervene at any point rather than let politicians (no matter how inadequately) resolve their problems among themselves. Abdellahi could have been ousted by constitutional means, and chances are that if he had not taken the ill-considered move of sacking the military's top brass (presumably to replace them with allies) he would have lost his post one way or another. In the meantime, should they want to become more robustly democratic, Mauritanians need a military with less itchy trigger-fingers, new mechanisms to defuse political crises (and, realistically, prevent politicians from too arbitrarily interfering in military affairs). But it would also help if Mauritania's neighbors (who have been very silent on all this), its distant backers like Saudi Arabia, France or the US, and the international community more generally were to coax the military junta into a deal whereby Abdellahi is restored to power in return for the cancellation of his order sacking the generals. Then, Mauritania's politicians can decide for themselves whether they should relieve Abdellahi or call for fresh presidential elections. For the rest of the Arab world, there is the usual perplexing scene of illegitimately elected autocrats and monarchs-for-life voicing their concerns for democracy. Perhaps they are secretly rejoicing that dirt-poor, peripheral Mauritania has not turned out to be as democratic as everyone thought and that the sarcastic columns penned by the likes of Fahmy Howeidy, who in 2005 wondered whether "the Mauritanian option" was the solution to the Arab political predicament, will no longer appear. Above: Al Jazeera International reporting on anti- and pro- coup demos in Nouakshott. Links to articles on Mauritania: Al-Ahram Weekly | Front Page | A classic coup Mauritania | Another president booted out | Economist.com Le premier président démocratiquement élu en Mauritanie a été renversé - Afrique - Le Monde.fr Mauritanie : la junte militaire promet des élections "libres et transparentes" - Afrique - Le Monde.fr BBC NEWS | Africa | US halt aid over Mauritania coup Arab news - Editorial: Power grab in Mauritania AFP: Mauritania police break up anti-coup rally Last but not least, follow the latest development on the Mauritania-centered blog The Moor Next Door.
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The Battle of Tavregh Zeina « The Moor Next Door

From The Battle of Tavregh Zeina « The Moor Next Door:

More news from Mauritania. Word on the street is that two people have died and fifteen people have been hospitalized in a massive fire-fight in the chic Tavregh Zeina neighborhood of the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott today. The fighting is linked to the massive manhunt going on in search of the escaped Islamist accused of killing four French tourists late last year, Sidi Ould Sidna. There is speculation that Ould Sidna may have been killed in the fighting (Correction: Ould Sidna was among the wounded, operated on, and then taken into detention). It is unclear as to what the composition of wounded has been (in terms of soldiers, police, militants, or civilians). The government is describing the clash as one between the government and “Salafists,� a descriptor easily exchanged for “terrorists.�*

Mauritanian sources suspect that there is French involvement on the government’s side (French intell. has been in the capital for the past two weeks and the French were hopping mad to hear that Ould Sidna had escaped so quickly). According sources in Nouakchott, it is believed that four militants have escaped, and that police casualties are high because they attempted to arrest the militants, as opposed to killing them. Two wounded terrorists have been arrested. It is also being reported from the capital that the head of Mauritania’s elite anti-terror unit was killed in the fighting. Here is the Reuters report. The story remains ongoing.

 

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Links January 23rd and January 24th

Automatically posted links for January 23rd through January 24th:

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Mauritanian hijacker foiled

Ouch:
Mauritanian hijacker gets in hot water By JUAN MANUEL PARDELLAS, Associated Press Writer Fri Feb 16, 2:12 PM ET SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, Canary Islands - A fast-thinking pilot with passengers in cahoots fooled a hijacker by braking hard upon landing, then accelerating to knock the man down. When he fell, flight attendants threw boiling water in his face, and about 10 people pounced on him, Spanish officials said Friday.
If there is one thing 9/11 has changed "forever" amidst all the hyperbole, it's that you don't hijack planes anymore! (Incidentally, the guy was reportedly only seeking political asylum -- he wasn't going to blow himself up.)
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Mauritania's constitutional referendum

Mauritania -- yes, the poor, backward, drought-stricken, desert state of Mauritania -- has voted for constitutional amendments in a national referendum that imposes term limits on the presidency. Early results on the 25 June referendum indicate that Mauritanians approved by 97% the reform, with at least 76% of eligible voters casting their votes. The reforms they voted on included limiting presidential terms to two five-year terms and preventing the president from holding on to his post if older than 75. While the former reform, while not a first, is rare enough in the region (and in places like Tunisia, Ben Ali amended the constitution to remove term limits), the latter is the first time anywhere, as far as I know, that age limits have been placed on a president. If this rule was applied, neither Egypt nor France would be able to hold on to their current presidents! Explaining his motives for the referendum, the leader of the junta that staged a coup in August 2005, Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, said:
If the president remains in power for 18, 20 or 30 years and plans to pass his position on to his son or another person of his choice, this would be personal power and a way of ruling that does not take into account the interest of the country or its citizens.
He's not going to be popular at the next Arab League meeting. There are also further precautions in the constitution: presidential candidates must pledge that he will not back any revision to the constitution that would change the provisions on presidential terms. The constitution's article 99 also states that no constitutional amendment of presidential terms can be made at all. Naturally, all of this can be changed by a despot who comes along later. But Mauritanians did suffer under Maaouya Ould Taya, the ousted leader who ruled from 1984 to 2005. Perhaps they've learned the hard way that these rules are valuable. If it works out, they'll be putting to shame Arab autocrats and giving new legitimacy to palace coups -- as I remember Egyptian columnist Fahmi Howeidy predicting last August. Jonathan Edelstein over at the Head Heeb is less sanguine about the referendum and points out that the constitution still remains strongly presidential, with the president having considerable power over the prime minister and the cabinet. While I agree with him on that point, I still think the insistence on term limits is quite a step forward. Now we'll have to see how parliamentary elections this Fall and presidential elections next Spring will be carried out.
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ICG on Mauritania

It's in French only for now, but there's a new ICG report out on Mauritania:
Mauritanians wish to break with the way power has been concentrated in the hands of a few tribal groupings, a syndrome that reached unprecedented levels under Ould Taya. However, the country’s new strongman and some of his colleagues are pillars of the old power structure and almost certainly will want to turn the page rather than examine it, redress past injustices and shed light on the practices of the previous regime. That Ould Mohamed Vall and Ould Abdel Aziz belong to the same tribal group, one which was highly privileged under the old regime, raises the question whether they truly intend to change its clientelist patterns and could fuel political tensions before long. The Military Council has promised to organise a return to legitimate institutions within a reasonable timetable: a constitutional referendum is scheduled for 26 June 2006, municipal and legislative elections for 19 November 2006, and senatorial and presidential elections for 11 March 2007. Over its first months, the regime has taken welcome steps. Political parties are consulted; the electoral calendar is neither too short (which would have prevented parties from organising) nor too long. An electoral commission whose independence is widely acknowledged has been established. Still, more is needed...
More when I get time to read the full report. Hope to be able to go there in June, inch'allah.
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Mauritania's trendsetting politics

The Head Heeb ponders on how coup d'etats have become more fashionable since last August's velvet coup in Mauritania. Surely the example of other types of regime change is also having an impact on how coups are viewed. It reminded me of an article I published at the time in the late, lamented Middle East International. It never went online (it was only accessible by subscription in PDF format or in the paper version), so I thought I'd make it available here.
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