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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mauritania: Dreaming about the Fall of the Military State

September 18, 2012
Mauritania: Dreaming about the Fall of the Military State
By Ahmed Ould Jedou

Mauritania has witnessed large protests this year calling for an end to the military regime of General Ould Abdel Aziz (for a useful though slightly out of date overview, see @LISSNUP's discussion of the protests). Mauritanian activist and blogger Ahmed Ould Jedou offers an insider's perspective on the drivers of protest and the role of the February 25 youth movement. The full text of the article (in Arabic) can be downloaded here.

A summary in English, by Sara Abbas, is below – The Editors

Mauritania is living through an intense period of political upheaval, whose beginnings can be traced to the Arab Spring and the subsequent fall of Arab dictators. The Mauritanian opposition in all its forms has become united in the need to bring an end to the ruling military regime, led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

As far as the opposition is concerned, the current regime in Mauritania represents a continuation of rule by the military establishment, which began in 1978 following the overthrow of the country's first president at independence, Ould Daddah. Mauritania's current president, General Ould Abdel Aziz (henceforth "the General") came to power when he deposed Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in a 2008 coup. The latter had removed the General from his post as the head of the presidential guard.

The 2008 coup was widely regarded as a painful blow to Mauritania's experiment with democracy, and a return by stealth of the military. Mauritania had attempted democracy following another coup in 2005, which brought down the regime of Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya. In the wake of that coup, elections deemed free and fair were successfully organized, in 2007. Ould Cheikh Abdallahi emerged victorious in the second round.

The coup by the General a year later was widely condemned by the opposition, which formed a "National Front for the Defense of Democracy"; an entity that soon became a target of state repression. Following a long struggle, the opposition entered into dialogue with the General, resulting in the 2009 Dakar agreement. The agreement paved the way for presidential elections later that year.

The elections, when they came, were a failure. Many international observers refused to take part. The major opposition parties rejected the election's results, and the General was seen to backtrack from his Dakar commitments. The agreement had stipulated the holding of a comprehensive national dialogue, with the purpose of tackling a host of thorny issues. The most urgent among these was how best to organize elections, in addition to defining the role of the national army vis a vis other state institutions.

The regime's refusal to enter into dialogue with the opposition, widespread corruption and theft of the country's resources, and tampering with the judiciary, amongst other things, coupled with the energy unleashed by the Arab Spring, contributed greatly to the situation we find in Mauritania today. A plethora of diverse groups ranging from youth movements to traditional opposition forces are currently working to put an end to the regime.

The opposition political parties are an important force in the country, and coordinate their activities through a body known as the Democratic Opposition Coordination (COD). COD is composed of some influential Mauritanian political figures, several pressure groups, and ten political parties. The most prominent of the parties is Rally of Democratic Forces (socialist in leaning), Tawassoul (which represents the Muslim Brotherhood in Mauritania and which enjoys a strong following among university students and civil society organizations), and Union of the Forces of Progress (left-leaning, with a strong presence in the trade unions). The COD has organized several massive marches this year, and has tried to stage a sit-in in the capital Nouakchott on May 3rd, although it was quickly repressed by the state. A recent large action by the COD was a march in Nouakchott in July, which began near the national hospital, then made its way to Ibn Abbas Plaza, where it staged its rally. 90,000 people are estimated to have taken part in that demonstration.

Another important presence in the political scene is the February 25 Movement. Inspired by the spirit of the Arab Spring, and in response to calls by activists on the internet, Mauritanian youth took to the streets on 25February 2011. The youth's slogans extolled the idea of a civil state, called for an end to the military state, and made a number of social and economic demands. The intensity of the demonstrations took the regime by surprise, and the state moved to repress them within two weeks of the first demonstration.

The youth, who became known as "February 25 youth", began organizing themselves in a number of different structures. First, there was the "February 25 coordinating body", but soon, tensions and disagreements appeared between the members, leading to the dissolution of the group. A segment of the members had attempted to enter into dialogue with the General, a move that was condemned by the majority as a betrayal of a movement still in its infancy. Following the collapse of the coordinating body, a "25 February youth coalition" was formed, which took over leadership of the movements' youth, and it managed to effect a strong youth presence in the Mauritanian street.

Throughout this period, the regime was very active in its repression of the movement, treating the youth with extreme harshness and thwarting their efforts with the help of its intelligence services. A segment of the organizers managed to hold together however, and established the "25 February Movement" that is still active today.

February 25 uses marches, sit-ins, other forms of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance to protest the situation in Mauritania. In addition, the movement organizes online campaigns against corruption, injustice and the repressive tactics with which dissent is met in the country. Though February 25 relies mainly on Facebook for mobilization, it does employ more direct tactics, such as leaflet distribution and poster-hanging.

The Movement makes various demands, including:

The establishment of a democratic, institutionally based state where governance is exercised by the people without oversight by the military;

Strengthening national unity and creating real solidarity between various components of Mauritania's people by combating all forms of racism and marginalization, eradicating slavery and its remnants, and instituting positive discrimination (affirmative action) measures to benefit the most vulnerable groups in society;

Giving women their proper standing so as to enable them to contribute to building Mauritanian society side by side with men;

An education system that truly caters for the needs of the labor market and creates jobs that can guarantee a dignified life;

An end to the institutionalized looting of the country's wealth and the better utilization of national resources;

Enabling civil society to play a more effective role in state-building and reform; and

The Establishment of mutual respect and cooperation with other countries and a foreign relations based on serving and protecting Mauritania's interests and the interests of its citizens.

According to some observers, February 25 youth have played an important role in Mauritania's politics. Their repeated public demonstrations have entrenched a culture of protest in the country, to the point that protesting is a normal event in Mauritania today.

Observers however fault the movement because, despite its national and inclusive demands, most of its activists are Arabs, and therefore do not reflect the diversity of Mauritanian society, which is composed of Arabs, blacks and descendants of former slaves ("Haratine").

The movement has tried to remedy this by linking up with other protest movements that represent non-Arabs, including the "Don't Touch my Nationality" black protest movement as well as "IRA Mauritanie"- the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania. With COD joining the call on the street for the removal of the regime, these groups have begun to participate alongside the other organizations.

An activity carried out recently by February 25 was a symbolic action, which took the form of a protest in front of the constitutional court on July 10 (2012), the anniversary of the first coup in Mauritania's history (1978). Security dispersed the protestors quickly, and arrested some of the movement's activists.

Looking forward, Mauritania's opposition parties and youth movements face a great challenge. If they want to achieve real change and bring down the regime, they will have to win over all segments of Mauritanian people – Arab, black and descendants of former slaves, in order to create solidarity and unity capable of mobilizing the silent majority of Mauritania's street to bring an end to the military state.


Nasser Weddady on Youth Protests in Mauritania and Social Media

Sep 28 2012 by Nasser Weddady

[This post is part of an ongoing Profile of a Contemporary Conduit series on Jadaliyya that seeks to highlight prominent voices in and from the Middle East and North Africa.]

Jadaliyya: What do you think are the most gratifying aspects of Tweeting, and Twitter?

Nasser Weddady: The most gratifying aspect of Twitter for me is to get work done! The platform is a superb networking tool allowing users - if used right- to build new contacts all over the globe. So, more than once, I have managed to leverage these relationships to achieve concrete objectives offline in the real world. Beyond networking, Twitter is becoming an increasingly effective tool to track some of the emerging trends among Mideast youth and Muslim Diasporas around the world. Additionally, Twitter's nature as an echo chamber allows users to shape public discussions as well as media trends.

J: What are some of the political/social/cultural limits you've encountered using the platform?

NW: Twitter's word limit makes it difficult for verbose users to communicate complex and abstract ideas. Even users who are very good speakers of "Twitterese" (the art of packing complex ideas into 140 characters) will sooner or later run into the challenge of having to either forgo certain conversations, or flood their followers with disjointed ideas. In terms of topics, Twitter increasingly mirrors all the major ideological and political fault lines in my area of interest-- the Middle East and North Africa. The most pronounced, and at times virulent, are the irreconcilable differences between pro-regime users and dissidents all over the region. Interestingly, there is also more ideological warfare being waged between the different shades of Islamist currents and their secular opponents.

J: In your experience and use of Twitter, do you feel it helps mobilize or disorganize? Focus or crowd? Is it manageable or noisy? Can it help persuade and mobilize or does it turn everyone into a voyeur and spectator?

NW: I believe Twitter is a tool, and like any tool, if the user does not have a strategy to achieve concrete objectives, it will simply generate noise. Activists have managed to leverage twitter to project their voices and impose themselves in the larger debate about the region to compensate for their quasi-exclusion before the era of uprisings. In terms of mobilization, that too is a function of users' credibility. If users develop a reputation of providing reliable analysis, info, and data, that will automatically increase their chances of influencing/shaping outcomes.

Politicians and media pundits are increasingly turning to Twitter with the thought that their omnipresence in media will generate big followers counts for them. Their assumption is that their own self-perceived brand will automatically translate into clout. Interestingly, that is a fundamental misunderstanding about the concept of real influence in shaping debates and outcomes online and offline. Ultimately, the impact of Twitter is very much a function of its users; if the users do not follow a carefully thought strategy, the results will be just an endless stream of consciousness. Plainly spoken, the content of one's Tweet stream is what ultimately defines how much of an impact they can have.

J: How has Twitter helped your cause or hindered your cause? Does Twitter turn activists into armchair activists ("slacktivists")?

NW: Twitter has helped my work as it has allowed me to continue building contacts and networks spanning the entire region and beyond. It also allowed me to tap into multiple scenes and communities which generate invaluable data to understand the context of the news cycle.

I happen to be one of those who believe that social media platforms are invaluable to generate attention to regions and topics that mainstream media does not or cannot cover. With time, I find myself less interested in debating the finer points of that topic; it is a moot point by now given how much global engagement the Arab uprisings created between private citizens, previously unable to engage in direct citizen-to-citizen relationships with MENA natives. Conversely, social media platforms have allowed MENA natives to join the global community in ways that were impossible before: exchanging ideas, values and getting in sync with the rest of the world. I take the view that in the long run, that is a much more valuable strategic impact than tactical day-to-day topical uses.

J: How do you manage criticism, personal attacks, and hostility, online and offline?

NW: I believe that criticism is part of the exercise of being in the public arena. It is a healthy thing that makes social media much more vibrant than traditional media. Pundits, news commentators are much more accessible and therefore "criticizable" than they were before in print and broadcast media. This can be a good way to keep them in touch with reality, and prevent them from dissolving into mere soundbite machines. In terms of managing hostility online, I make a point of remaining respectful and upbeat, using humor, and exercising restraint. But, there is always the block button. I tend to ignore hostility and shouting matches because it's often a terrible waste of valuable time and positive energy.

J: What role has Twitter played in youth protests in Mauritania?

NW: From my experience, I have worked on using Twitter to connect Mauritanian users with their fellow Arab activists to transfer expertise and knowledge in terms of cyber-activism. The nucleus of the Mauritanian "Twitteratis" is now the engine shaping the discussions about Mauritania and increasingly the conflict in Mali. Mauritania experts both in media and think tanks are beginning to rely on Mauritanian users to keep tabs on the country's ongoing crisis. Simply put, Mauritanian Twitter users are in many ways replicating the traditional patterns of other MENA twitter users: collective thinking, strategizing, and communicating with the external world and their activist peers.

[Nasser Weddady blogs at Dekhnstan and tweets at @weddady.]


Mauritania: March to Commemorate the Passing of Rights Activist

Posted 24 September 2012 13:07 GMT
Written by Rakotomalala

Civil rights organisation Touche pas à ma nationalité TPMN (Do not interfere with my citizenship) has called for a large march on September 27, 2012, in the capital Nouakchott, to commemorate the passing of anti-racism activist Lamine Mangane.

Mangane was killed a year ago by authorities in the town of Maghama during protests against a census that marginalized black citizens of Mauritania.

In memory of Lamine Mangane

Who was Lamine Mangane? His father Moussa Abdoul Mangane recalls the memory of his son [fr] on the blog Mauritanides:

Lamine, âgé de 19 ans a été tué par balle pendants les manifestations contre l'enrôlement à Maghama. Nous avons déposé une plainte au tribunal de Kaédi afin que justice soit faite. Malheureusement, nous n'avons, jusqu'à maintenant, pas eu aucune réponse en retour. L'assassin de mon fils circule librement et ce, avec la complicité de nos appareils judiciaires. Il a même pour toute sanction, une affectation [..] A travers la mort de mon fils et les blessés à Maghama, suite aux manifestations contre l'enrôlement raciste, c'est une fois de plus la communauté négro-mauritanienne qui est brutalisée, blessée, meurtrie

Lamien was 19 when he was shot to death during the protests against the census in Maghama. We have filed a complaint at the Tribunal of Kaedi for justice to be served. Yet we are still waiting for a response from our inquiry. My son's killer is still at large with the implicit approval of our judicial system. His only sanction was to be re-assigned to a different location [..] With my son's death and all those wounded in Maghama following this racist census, it is once again the black Mauritanian community that is brutalized, wounded and hurt

A video by Siteflere [fr] gives more background on Lamine Mangane and shows people marching a year ago after learning about his death:

The association l'Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie IRA- Mauritanie (in English: the Promotion of the Abolitionist Movement Initiative in Mauritania) gave the following statement [fr] in the blog Info de la Rue:

La mort de Lamine Mangane ne peut en aucune manière rester impunie. Si l'autorité perçoit cet assassinat comme un acte de dissuasion, elle se trompe lourdement, il risque au contraire d'envenimer la situation et de semer le chaos

The death of Lamine Mangane cannot remain unpunished. If the authorities believe that this assassination would dissuade us, it is highly mistaken. To the contrary, it might make matters worse and bring chaos.

A history of racial tension

Lamine Mangane is not the lone victim in the continuing racial tension between blacks and arabs in Mauritania. The Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania (M.J.E.M) states that 25 year-old Bakary Bathily, a rights activist and a student at the University of Nouakchott's School of Law and Economics, has been missing since February 22:

The authorities initiated a massive manhunt to arrest the young activist and prevent him from advancing the cause of the oppressed Black Africans in Mauritania. In Nouakchott alone, dozens of black students have been arrested this year. Others have been harassed and tortured by the Police [..] Bakary's family has not seen him or spoken with him since February 2, 2012. Numerous Human Rights organizations in Mauritania have been demanding the government to call off the manhunt…

The blog Flere reminds us of the long history of clashes [fr] between arabs and blacks in Mauritania:

Arrestations de militaires en octobre 1987 à la suite d'un prétendu coup d'Etat militaire : trois exécutions, 23 condamnés entre 5 ans et la perpétuité, près d'un millier de militaires noirs chassés de l'armée après avoir subi toutes formes de tortures et d'humiliations. Des tortures et mauvais traitements qui allaient entraîner la mort de 4 prisonniers politiques à Waalata. Au mois d'avril 1989, des centaines de Noirs (700 au moins) sont massacrés á Nouakchott, à Nouadhibou et dans plusieurs autres localités mauritaniennes, avec la complicité des plus hautes autorités de l'Etat.

Soldiers were arrested in October 1987 after an alleged coup: 3 were executed, 23 sentenced to years in prison (from 5 to life sentence). About a thousand black soldiers were thrown out of the army, some of them after being tortured and humiliated. Some of those tortures led to the death of 4 political prisoners in Waalata. In April 1989, at least 700 hundred blacks were killed in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and others cities, with the implicit support of the hightest state authorities.

Abdoulaye Yero DIA argues that this situation cannot last any longer [fr]:

une chose est claire et confirmée tout le long de l'Histoire : la durée de vie de l'oppression est très réduite à l'échelle de l'Histoire. Cette injustice doit s'arrêter. Que les dirigeants sachent une chose : en continuant à se comporter comme ils le font, ils sont entrain de nourrir la haine envers leurs propres enfants et de donner aux opprimés d'aujourd'hui des arguments pour justifier un désir de revanche

One thing is certain as history has shown throughout its course: oppression is always on borrowed time. This injustice must stop. The authorities must know that with their behavior, they are planting the seeds of hatred towards their own descendants and give the oppressed the arguments for a yearning for vengeance.

Abdoul Birane Wane gives the details of the events [fr] scheduled prior to the march:

Mercredi 26 septembre, un grand concert au 5eme arrondissement à partir de 18heures.

- Jeudi 27 septembre à 11heures , sitin devant le ministère de la justice pour exiger le jugement des coupables.
- 17heures, meeting au 6eme arrondissement.

- On Wednesday, September 26, a large concert will take place in the 5th district from 6 PM.

- Thursday, September 27 at 11 am, a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Justice to demand that the culprits be sentenced.
- At 5 PM, a general meeting in the 6th district.

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