Adonis Diaries

Mauritania? An “Arab” State in West Africa? Where a Third of population are slaves?

Posted on: June 8, 2012

Mauritania?  An “Arab” State in West Africa? Where a Third of population are slaves?

Mauritania is a vast desert State in West Africa, bordering Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Senegal…and the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently, its population is barely 3 million, a third of them are slaves and mostly women.

Mauritania is a member of the “Arab League“, but the US State Department opted to group Mauritania smack in Africa, and this State is “administered” as such by the US Secretary of State…

Lucky Mauritania?  That the US has decided to forget this country as part of the “Arab”World”: It must have been saved plenty of humiliation and indignities heaved on the remaining “Arab States” by the US foreign policies…

 posted on May 23, 2012, under: “The Arab Spring you haven’t heard about — in Mauritania”:

“You may not have heard of it, but the West African country of Mauritania has what is probably one of the most vibrant and active protest movements in the world today.

Protests drawing tens of thousands of people take place almost weekly in the capital Nouakchott, with many smaller protests happening on a daily basis around the vast country.

Photo by Magharebia, via Wikimedia Commons

The protests are overwhelmingly nonviolent, even in the face of frequent violent suppression, and have been going on since February 2011.

It would be comfortable to file these protests as another part of the Arab Spring: Mauritania is on the southern reaches of the Saharan Arab belt, and large-scale protests here started with the self-immolation and subsequent death of Yacoub Ould Dahoud, an action mirroring the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, which set off the revolt in Tunisia.

As in other Arab countries that experienced large-scale protests, Mauritania is governed by an autocratic regime whose leader, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, originally came to power through a coup d’état.

But while these similarities exist and the pro-democracy protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world surely have been a source of great inspiration for local activists, Mauritania merits a second look.

First, the range of participating actors in Mauritania are as diverse as their agendas. While a common concern of all protest movements is the end of the rule of Abdel Aziz, there are host of other issues that various groups want to have addressed, not all directly related to the country’s ruler.

(Saidou Wane, a Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania activist speaks during a protest against the government at Fountain Square in April. Photo via Cincinnati.com)

Chief among the issues is of slavery.

Some estimates say that up to a third of Mauritania’s population is enslaved (even though the practice has been formally abolished many times). Victims are overwhelmingly ethnic black Africans.

This creates racial tensions in Mauritania’s multi-ethnic society, but also religious ones, as certain interpretations of Islam are used to legitimize slavery.

These tensions have forced their way into the open in the context of current protests, with anti-slavery activist Biram Ould Abeid publicly burning Islamic legal manuals discussing the issue. Abeid was subsequently arrested by the authorities, and his case is controversially debated among other activists.

Another very active group, traditionally eyed suspiciously in Western societies, are the Islamists. Organizations like Tawassoul demand a State and society based on principles of Islamic law.

While not cooperating a lot with other protest movements, they have been incredibly persistent in their activities against the regime, including protests of Salafist women against democracy (which is seen as not compatible with Islam) and for the release of imprisoned husbands.

More familiar political standpoints are expressed by the traditional political opposition and various youth movements, the biggest of which has followed the modern tradition of naming itself after the date of the first big protest, 25F (February 25, 2011). These groups focus on democratic reform and an end of the reign of President Aziz.

With all these different actors and goals competing for internal support and attention, it is remarkable that protests have almost completely stayed peaceful for well over a year. While protesters frequently face violence from police (including kittling, arbitrary arrests, beatings, water cannons, tear gas and attack dogs), the protesters have employed a wide range of nonviolent tactics.

In addition to traditional rallies, marches, speeches and sitins, protesters have occupied public squares with tents and use social media and video live streaming to coordinate protests, document violence and communicate with the outside world.

As the growing momentum of the protests show, these nonviolent tactics have so far fulfilled their goal of mobilizing the general population against the regime. But President Aziz should not be counted out just yet.

While the diversity of the protesters and their goals shows that a vibrant civil society and widespread discontent exists in Mauritania, their disunity may still allow Aziz to carry the day.

Already, the affair around the Islamic book burning by anti-slavery activist Abeid has allowed President Aziz to portray himself as a defender of Islam.

Given the incompatibility of demands by pro-democracy activists and Islamists, it is easy to imagine President Aziz discovering his inner zealot to rally support from this part of society (a strategy tried and tested on the other side of continent in Sudan).

Another possible development could see Aziz taking advantage of the regional situation.

There are large parts of neighboring Rep. of Mali controlled by Islamist groups who proclaimed the Independence of Azawat in the northern region (see link in note). And the fear of an “African Afghanistan” is running high in European, U.S. and African capitals.

President Aziz could implement some feigned democratic reforms and present himself as a beacon of stability in the region, hoping for (and probably getting) Western military support and closed eyes, ears and mouths in the U.N. Security Council and the African Union.

Given the level of mobilization in Mauritania so far, the pro-democracy movements in Mauritania have a good chance of succeeding against such moves. Looking at successful nonviolent struggles elsewhere, activists in Mauritania could enhance the likelihood of success by working to undermine the foundations of the regime.

Actions like strikes and boycotts can be incredibly effective, if well employed. Additionally, the protest movements could reach out to security forces, trying to convince at least elements of them to turn over to their side.

After all, police and soldiers need to feel that they will be part of a better future as well, otherwise many of them will go with the devil they know instead of with the change they mistrust.

Note 1: Since, France has engaged troops to stop the Islamist forces marching toward south Mali, and so far, a few African contingents are participating, lukewarmly.

Note 2: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/western-africa-rep-of-mali-azawat-tuareg-south-sahara-al-qaeda-sahel-whats-going-on/

Advertisements

2 Responses to "Mauritania? An “Arab” State in West Africa? Where a Third of population are slaves?"

Arabia States are States with arab majority, Syria And Irak have an important non-arab groups as well

Almost all “Arabic” states, Arabs are minorities: They were tribes transplanted in conquered lands. The language and traditions were different and the urban regions were the hotbed for educating the newly arrived tribes and disseminating Arabic sciences and works. Arabic Empires were actually Islamic Empires

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

June 2012
M T W T F S S
« May   Jul »
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  

Blog Stats

  • 1,284,134 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 665 other followers

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: