• September 3, 2008

Mauritania coup update – II

Follow-up from the last installment. Mauritania“s post-coup crisis continues to simmer. Among the ingredients, in no particular temporal or consequential order:

1. The Democratic Opposition bloc downgrades its support to the HCE junta. Member parties RFD (of deposed president Abdellahi“s electoral rival, Ahmed ould Daddah) and AJD/mr (a Southern Peul group led by Ibrahima Sarr) both refuse to sit in the HCE”s government under newly appointed Prime Minister Laghdaf, which is significant: the HCE can do without them, but their pro-democracy credentials (however contrived) represent its best chance for regime legitimacy. The parties seem to have different reasons for their refusals, but the RFD”s position is clearly related to Daddah”s wish to get guarantees for him becoming president. The Democratic Opposition also counts Saleh ould Hanana“s Hatem party (which will participate) and MDD (which will not), but they”re not as important as RFD and AJD/mr, both of which represent serious chunks of the political class.

[picture: official flag of the islamic banana republic of mauritania]

Not participating in a government does not mean, of course, that these parties are now in active opposition to the HCE. They cautiously backed the coup from the start, and remain open for discussions with the junta. It could very well be that they”re just exploiting the junta”s precarious position to try to extract concessions from it. More generally, it seems these former civilian opposition activists are belatedly beginning to realize that a military coup means that the military will be in charge, as opposed to, well, themselves.

A couple of deputies have already defected from the HCE”s parliemantary majority, but it”s a trickle so far.

2. Apart from this bunch of civilian politicians, the National Front for the Defense of Democracy (FNDD) is still going reasonably strong in its anti-coup activities. It is a mismatched but so far relatively cohesive coalition of president Abdellahi”s loyal henchmen from the PNDD/Adil (Cleptocrat), arm in arm with Messoud ould Boulkheïr“s APP (NasseristHaratine), Mohamed ould Maouloud“s UFP (Socialist) and Jamil ould Mansour“s Tawassoul party (Ikhwani). Rumors of its impending collapse are not in themselves unlikely, but have so far proven to be greatly exaggerated.

3. Col. Vall is back, again. The leader of the country during the junta-led transition of 2005-2007 has apparently returned from language studies in Ireland (!), and is now likely to insert himself into the political mess somehow. There has been much speculation that he will be the junta”s presidential candidate, since he”s popular and in uniform (and has familial and tribal ties to the HCE top men), but counter-speculation alleges that he”s fallen out with the clique around HCE leader Gen. Abdelaziz. To be followed closely.

4. International reactions remain unforgiving, with France and the USA both being resolutely opposed to the HCE. They are joined by regional power Algeria, and economically influential Gulf states such as Qatar, UAR and Saudi Arabia — the on/off talk about a trigger for the coup having been some shady Gulfie business deals (eh!) comes to mind again, as does the fact that ex-ex-president ould Tayaa is in exile in Qatar. Morocco,
Algeria“s regional rival, is the most important regional state to back the HCE, whereas Libya, which has been unsuccessfully meddling in the country”s politics for many decades, also seems to have grown somewhat supportive of it. A couple of mostly inconsequential West African states also back the HCE, whereas the other neighbours, Senegal, Mali, and the POLISARIO Front, are all wholly noncommittal. POLISARIO”s attitude is particularly interesting, since there has been a constant drip of reveleations about Gen. Abdelaziz”s ties to Morocco, which are, to say the least, strong.*

5. Legal, political, and other wrangling continues around the Khattou mint el-Boukhari Foundation, which has become the focal point of accusations of corruption against the deposed president.

6. According to the African Union, the president will be released soon. One can”t help wonder in return for what. There has been some speculation about finding him a nice place of exile, but who knows. One also can”t help to bear in mind his prime minister, Yehia ould Ahmed el-Waghef, who was released sometime after the coup, but then jailed again after joining the FNDD protests.

The HCE, Gen. Mohamed ould Abdelaziz & Co. are still firmly in power, which is according to normal Mauritanian coup procedure: holding the military and bureaucracy together is what really matters. However, they are not securely in power, and neither internal nor external resistance has subsided, which is terribly abnormal. If the 2005 coup was a test case to see whether democracy could be brought by military intervention, this one is beginning to look like a test case to see whether firm international condemnation and internal protest is enough to stop a military seizure of power in a small country such as Mauritania. One certainly shouldn”t count on it, and it”s something of a gamble to bet on, but — and this is the truly new and interesting part — you can”t quite rule it out either.

Tangentially related: The Moor Next Door has started some laudable research in trying to figure out which is the most popular month for Arab coup dӎtats. Join in, here.