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Mauritania as an Introduction to the New Arab Political Scene | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When the change in leadership that toppled the former Mauritanian president Ould Taya took place on 3 August, analysts were unsure of how to categorize the action. What took place was not the traditional military coup that Mauritania, the African nations, and the Arab nations are familiar with; since it did not overthrow constitutional legitimacy. The coup also did not suspend public freedom or try to usurp power. It merely claimed that it would rectify the democratic course and end the suffocating political crisis of the country.

This fact was realized by international organizations and parties that do not recognize the legitimacy of military coups. Thus, eventually the United States, the European Union, the African Union, and Francophone Organization all acknowledged the new rulers of Nouakchott and even supported their reformist project after some hesitancy.

The coup of 3 August is far from being an exclusive occurrence to Mauritania as some have analyzed it to be. Rather, it is an indication of radical change, which the Arab political scene is currently experiencing. There are another two indications to which I will refer.

The first indication is the smooth transfer of power and the reform process that was launched along that transfer, especially in the monarchies. The Moroccan case is very illustrative. The young king, Mohamed VI managed to continue in developing the reform process that had begun during the final years of his father”s reign. The new king”s experiment permitted a form of &#34peaceful transition of power&#34 through a complicated and successful deal between the palace and the major political forces, with the leftists at the forefront. The reform has also included the most heated social and cultural issue. In addition, the reforms helped to contain the living traces of political conflict between different political opponents of the 60”s and 70”s. Similar reforms have taken place albeit in different circumstances in Bahrain for example since the new king succeeded his father. In addition, preliminary indications towards the same direction could be sensed in other countries.

The second indication is related to the emergence of new patterns of resistance and opposition by Arab NGOs that in the absence of strong political parties and traditional opposition forces play a political role in ending political stagnation. They also seek to clear the blocked paths of change as well as to deal with the absence of a peaceful transition of power. The new patterns have ensued in new organizations that are developing beyond charity or cultural work. They rather directly focus on comprehensive political reform and combating authoritarianism. Despite that, the dynamism resulting from these new patterns has not been translated yet into a sweeping public current; its intensive media presence, international ties, and elitist nature have constituted a driving force behind reform. We saw this dynamism mostly effective in Egypt as a force that played a role behind the country”s first plural presidential elections and in Lebanon as a social force following the assassination of late former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

We are then dealing here with new mechanisms for change that in turn are signs of essential transformations in the Arab political arena whether we examine the role of the military establishment or the role of civil society in bringing about these transformations. In this contest, we could not but note two major pillars around which the dynamism of change revolves and on which it anchors. The first pillar is the concept of reform which is the base for the project of change and which has become the theoretical-ideological frame of reference for the demands for transformations.

The second pillar is the external factor represented by international pressures for the change of the political arena in the region that is described by the West as an exception to the democratization of the developing world. The Arab regimes are no longer able to use the banners of sovereignty and independence as a pretense to reject external pressures. This of course allows for flexible movement in the current atmosphere of change.

After the invasion of Iraq, which has shaken the region, change based on those two pillars has become stronger. However, this trend faces major obstacles, the most important three are:-

1-The vagueness and theoretical fragility of the development project since it lacks solid intellectual and theoretical grounds unlike the case with the modern European upheavals, which represented the political embodiment of the age of enlightenment with all its social and philosophical values.

2-The absence of the effective political mediums to embrace change, as the status of the political parties in the Arab world are a cause for concern. They are mostly stagnant and impotent structures. This explains why civil NGOs have to play political roles even though this is not their original purpose of establishment. The clear irony now in the Arab world is that human rights organizations, cultural associations, and development groups are undertaking the task of political change, which is the role usually played by political parties and organizations.

3- Despite that, the external factor that assists in changing the complications of the regional scene and the nature of the American involvement in the region, especially the U.S atrocities in Iraq and its unlimited support of Israel, have rendered this factor less effective. This has caused the forces of change to be reserved and cautious in their dealing with international parties. They mainly fear the ready and widespread accusation of being agents of international forces. They also fear the possibility of unknowingly becoming tools for certain forces that have their own agendas.