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Where Now for Mauritania? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Rumors circulate around Mauritania today about a certain senior politicianwho was close to the previous regime (and perhaps to all of the previous regimes), who after hearing of the recent coup dӎtat that toppled Ould Taya, immediately wrote two letters. One letter welcomed the coup while the other condemned it. He placed both letters in his pocket and prepared for either of the following contradictory probabilities: to be at the forefront of supporters if the coup succeeded or to be faced with the opposition against the coup in case it failed.

Despite the validity of this story, it indicates a deep entrenchment of the doctrine of obedience and allegiance in the political realm. Such is a doctrine that gave birth to a pattern of the professional politician who can quickly disguise himself and associate himself with various ideologies despite how contradictory they may be. This politician is able to penetrate all centers of power, ideological and political organizations, and civil non-governmental institutions, a phenomenon that is present in all Arab countries, as we all well know.

However, in the case of Mauritania , such class of politicians face unprecedented difficulty these days as the new leadership which will run the country for a two-year interim period, has announced its full neutrality vis-à-vis the current political parties, as well as its strict refraining from influencing elections or establishing its own political organization. Therefore, it is expected that the political realm in Mauritania will witness numerous problems due to the formula of dual polarization. With the absence of the deposed president, political pluralism, which took effect thirteen years ago it, has been anchored.

Despite Mauritania having more than 25 political parties that are legitimate and recognized, only six were represented in the parliament that was lately dissolved. Three of the six represented the presidential majority as they were composed of the president”s party headed by the president himself, and another two supporting parties. The other three were the main opposition parties. Two of those parties were headed by the two strongest opposition figures who stood against Ould Taya, namely Ahmad Ould Dadda and Messaoud Ould Belkheir. The third party which was known as the National Democratic Movement represented the leftist trend.

It was clear that the Republican Party, which had dominated all positions of power and representation, as well as the decision-making, was not an ordinary party, but rather represented the institutional base of the former regime. Thus, it functioned in terms of three connected roles: a successful electoral machine, a strong mobilizing force, and a framework of interaction with civil society that takes into consideration the complex tribal structure of Mauritania. This exceptional status caused grave results, the most serious of which was to make the democratic course void of any real +substance, as there was a chaotic interrelatedness between the administrative-bureaucratic structures of the state, and the political party of the president, which is also headed by him. Therefore, taking into consideration the boycott and seclusion imposed on real opposition political parties via all means, the &#34State”s Party&#34 became the only circle for administrative promotion, the only way that led to higher decision centers, and the only frame of effective legitimacy.

Accordingly, it could be argued that the Republican Party resembled the single party regime of the totalitarian systems. It was not unusual that its organizational structure was very similar to that of ”The Mauritanian People”s Party” that was the only political party during the reign of former president Ould Dadda, and the ”Structures for People”s Discipline” which was the only political organization during the reign of Ould Hidala. Perhaps, such an analogy is what caused the late Mauritanian journalist

Habib Ould Mahfouz, to associate two distinct characteristics to the Republican Party. These features are the fact that its existence preceded its defined nature, and that it was the only political party in the world that did not practice politics, as it already held power and controlled administration.

What would be the future of this &#34single party&#34 after the collapse of the regime that created it and the removal of the president who exclusively managed it and appointed its leaders and electoral candidates?

Undoubtedly, this is the pivotal question today in Mauritania that remains difficult to answer. The preliminary indications suggest that the future of the party swings between three options. First, the attempt to draw the new military leadership to adopt such an electoral system that could be used in various ways. However, many indications suggest that this will fail, as the new rulers of Nouakchott, seem serious and candid in their rejection to engage in political activities and are determined to remain neutral.

The second option is to maintain the unity and structure of the party with its tribal formula, then transform it to a wide alliance party that would agree on a candidate who is more likely to win the elections in two years time. However, this option is also faced with challenges due to the absence of a polarization center that would unite all forces as well as adjust the various balances.

The third option which seems the most likely, has to do with the eruption of divisions, which has been already noted as some of the former leaders of the party entered the political arena under new guises and facades.

As for the current of opposition, which was derived from the ”The Union of Democratic Forces” in the early 90”s, and later divided into three parties, the Democratic Bloc, the Popular Progressive Union, and The Progressive Forces Union, it had suffered throughout Ould Taya”s reign. In addition, it was divided and fractioned several times. The question here is how would the opposition re-organize and renew their discourse to counterpart the new situation?

It is well known that this heterogeneous current is intersected by three circles. The leadership is centered on Ahmad Ould Dadda and Messaoud Ould Belkheir, followed by the Arab-Islamic-Leftist organization spread across the three parties mentioned above, then the circle of civil society. The latter is the formation of fissures of the crisis ridden tribal system that is under continuous divisions as the opposition represents one of those divisive mechanisms that polarizes tribes both at the intra level and within the same tribe. What then is the new plan for the necessary changes? What is the position of the Islamic current that fiercely clashed with the former regime over the last few months? Will the Arab Nationalist organizations (Baa”thists and Nasserists) make a comeback after years of absence? These are some of the crucial questions of a new era that will linger for the time being.