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Mauritania in Transformation | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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By toppling the ex-Mauritanian president Ould Taya after more than 20 years in power, Mauritania entered a decisive phase of its contemporary history. This has further been evident through the recent announcement of general amnesty for political prisoners and the exiled opposition, a rare opportunity to revitalize the long stagnant political dynamism. It would seem that such opportunities are similar to two in the past despite differences in context both at local and at international levels.

The first opportunity was represented in the almost comprehensive political reconciliation that occurred between the first Mauritanian president Mokhtar Ould Dadah and the student opposition in 1975. This reconciliation was achieved when Ould Dadah responded positively to several crucial demands made by the opposition, such as the review of the defense pacts with France, adaptation of a national currency, and the nationalization of the iron firm, Meferma. Such reconciliation allowed for the successful containment of violence that erupted throughout the first years of the 1970”s. It was also reflected in the ideology of the ruling party, the People”s Party that adopted socialist and progressive revolutionary orientation especially after the leftist youth joined it. However, the Desert wars that began at the end of 1975 killed all hope and returned violence and instability to Mauritania. The 1978 coup finally terminated the reign of Ould Dadah and launched an era of successive coups.

The second opportunity emerged from the 1984 coup, which brought the ex-president Ould Taya to power after five years of political stagnation during which all political trends were heavily repressed or exiled. In 1984, it seemed that the new regime intended to achieve all promises made by the military leadership of 1978 such as democracy, pluralism, and to overhaul of the deteriorating economy. The regime in fact initiated a preliminary electoral experience where elections were carried at the rural and urban municipalities.

However, the dream of salvation and reform did not last long. At the end of 1987, a coup by the FLAM organization (Forces de Liberation Africaine de Mauritanie) of black African nationalist rebels was thwarted. Less than two years after the coup attempt, the Senegalese-Mauritanian war erupted in April 1989. The war significantly damaged Mauritania. It has also affected Mauritania”s relations with its African neighbors. The local and regional effects still linger today, and most notably is the issue of Mauritanian refugees and asylum seekers in Senegal, and the annihilation of black officers at the beginning of the 1990”s.

When pluralist democracy was announced due to external pressures, the condition of political stagnation relatively eased. Yet, the mechanisms of elections and representations were abused, as they became a method to control political mobilization by way of political clientelism and by manipulation of administration and judiciary. This strategy not only allowed the regime to weaken and divide the opposition, but it also made the democratic process meaningless by evacuation of its essential components. This paved the way for another failed coup in June 2003. Several coups followed before the most recent military takeover that ended political and security crises.

Thus the third opportunity, which aims at pushing ahead the national project and restoring it, is taking place in Mauritania. The difference this time, which distinguishes this opportunity, lies in the nature of the guarantees offered by the military establishment in order to set up a pluralistic, transparent, and sincere democracy that includes all political forces and civilian organizations. Also, a democracy that will bolster Mauritania”s international and regional affairs in terms of creating more effective relations and dialogue with international partners, and both regional and international non-governmental organizations.

For all these, we realize the nature of the large burden on the Mauritanian political class, which has already been shaken by an unprecedented race to re-organize the political realm according to new facts and provisions. New topics that have never been open to discussion are already being addressed. The new presidential elections are the decisive element in the new political course of Mauritania. Several names of candidates have been suggested and are being discussed in the Salons of Nouakchott, much like the Diwaniyas (royal courts) of Kuwait. This leads us to anticipate a lengthy electoral campaign that will be distinguished this time by an unpredictable result unlike all former elections where the results were already decided beforehand. The forthcoming elections will be open to a number of possibilities.

Therefore, we can safely say that the political dynamism that has been launched by the August 3 transformative coup will be decisive in the Mauritanian political course from two axial perspectives. It will do so firstly in terms of the nature of the composition, and the effective powers in the Mauritanian political realm and secondly, by the pattern of managing major issues in a varied and plural society.