Party Leader Says Islamist Trend is Fact in Mauritania, Other Countries

Party Leader Says Islamist Trend is Fact in Mauritania, Other Countries

Excerpt from interview with President of the National Rally for Reform and Development in Mauritania Jamil Ould Mansour by Abdallah al-Rashidi. Interview held in Rabat during the month of July 2008; published by Muslim Brotherhood website Ikhwanonline on 3 August


[Rashidi] At the outset, I want to ask: what is the orientation of the National Rally for Reform and Development? How does it function in politics, and what are its justifications for participation in the Mauritanian political life?


[Mansour] The National Rally for Reform and Development is a Mauritanian political party with an Islamic term reference. This is the way we present the party. It is a party that belongs to the moderate Islamic school which is spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] group.


The party is an attempt to present a political perception that is based on the Islamic term reference for resolving Mauritania“s problems. In its platform and the priorities of its work, it focuses on the local issues. Nonetheless, it does not overlook the issues of its nation. It is known on the national level of sponsoring the Palestinian and Iraqi issues and all the Islamic issues of the nation.


We have chosen the name of the National Rally for Reform and Development. It has been less than one year since the party was formed. It was formed on 8 August 2007 and has already held its general national congress on 20 June 2008.


[Rashidi] When we talk about the Mauritanian political scene, where would you place your party within this scene?


[Mansour] The Mauritanian political scene consists of three levels. The first level is giving names to the national parties. These parties have no united ideology or doctrine. They are open parties. This description can basically be applied to two parties: the ruling party and the opposition Union of Democratic Forces. The second level are parties that represent schools of thought. On top of these parties is the National Rally for Reform and Development, which represents the Islamic school of thought despite the fact that it is an open party. The third level are the parties of individuals, and there are many of them in the country.


Generally speaking, we can say that since our party is the main representative of the Islamic trend, it has achieved progress in the areas of membership, growth and expression. All this has been possible with the help of God. Our party has managed to grow although there are parties that are bigger and more influential.


[Rashidi] What is the difference between the religious term reference and the political action in the perception of your party, i.e. the relationship between the Religious Da”wa and political action?


[Mansour] The truth of the matter is that the National Rally for Reform and Development is strictly speaking a political party with an Islamic term reference. This type of party has already appeared in more than one Arab and Muslim country. Therefore, it distinguishes but does not separate the religious Da”wa from political action. The party sees itself as the entity that enforces the Islamic perception in the political field, that runs public affairs and policies, and that offers political solutions to the national issues. [Passage omitted, saying the closest political movement to the ideology of the party is the al-Mustqbal society for culture and education]


[Rashidi] What is the nature of the relationship linking the National Rally for Reform and Development with the various Mauritanian political parties and the ruling regime?


[Mansour] Since the outset, we declared that we are stretching our hands to all the national parties for the sake of cooperation. We have good and constructive relations with the various national political parties, whether they are participating in government or in the opposition. These relations qualify us to play positive roles towards the various parties which do not always have friendly relations.


Our national congress has not deviated from this line. We have invited the various national political leaders to the congress. We have also launched many initiatives in the political arena on the combat of corruption and anti normalization of relations with Israel. We have also sponsored a number of important national issues in joint platforms with the national political parties. We have furthermore, carried out coalition experiments, although these experiments were not in depth. These political coalitions were forged especially during the period of elections or the scant participation in the government. We have good and acceptable relations with most of the political forces.


[Rashidi] You have participated in the second government of Mauritania with two cabinet ministers. How do you assess the participation and its challenges?


[Mansour] Nearly one year after its political performance in parliament, the National Rally for Reform and Development was classified as an opposition party. We called it counselling, balanced and responsible opposition, or the moderate opposition. We tried as much as possible to offer a political experiment that is different from the acute struggle which usually exists between the government and the opposition.


It followed that after this phase, the prime minister offered us to participate in the government. After an elaborate discussion, we were convinced that we should participate with the aim of strengthening the reformist trend in government, contributing to ending the hesitation over the breaking off relations with the Zionist entity, searching for practical means to run the government and embark on reform.


We participated in the government on the basis of the foregoing philosophy. We held two important portfolios. One was higher education and scientific research. The other was employment and professional training. However, suddenly, a crisis broke out at the top between the military and the president. The crisis undermined the stability of the regime itself and is still threatening the future of democracy in the country. Some members of the ruling majority declared that former opposition political parties should not be represented in the new cabinet.


Thus we found ourselves outside the government because of a crisis which we were never happy with. We are outside the realm of power at the present time. However, we will continue the line to which we made society accustomed. It is a responsible political line that makes responsible criticism. We are not vindictive in our opposition. If we participate in the government once again, we will certainly not justify government policies. [Passage omitted noting that democracy in Mauritania remains fragile and that he hopes for the better]


[Rashidi] Political parties with an Islamic term reference have opted for democracy. Is this a tactical option linked with the fragility of the country or is it a strategic option?


[Mansour] We were clear in the political perception of the party when we said that the democratic option for us is a strategic, not a tactical option. We have settled this question decisively from the ideological standpoint before settling it politically. We view democracy as an additional political asset to the political thought of mankind and that it is fit to be used as a framework for the reform of political life. We have no objections to introducing democracy to the systematic Islamic system in general.


[Rashidi] The question of normalization of relations with the Zionist entity is a very controversial question in Mauritania. How is your party running the battle with the presence of factions that seek to normalize Mauritania“s relations with Israel?


[Mansour] We have held the leadership of the battle against normalization and most Mauritanian political parties have been involved in this battle. There was a consensus to reject normalization of relations with the Zionist entity. This consensus still exists. The new regime has always promised to submit the question to the Mauritanian people at the right time. Whenever the regime does so, the people are ready to say their word. I believe that the Mauritanian people have won this battle on the moral and political levels. We are waiting for the impact of this action on the practical level, by breaking off relations with Israel.


[Rashidi] What is the nature of your relationship with the other issues of the nation, such as Iraq, Sudan and Somalia?


[Mansour] Our party is known as the voice of our Islamic World in Mauritania and the voice of Mauritania in the Islamic World. We are very careful to interact with the issues of our nation, starting with the central issue of Palestine, and then Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia and the recent crisis in Sudan. We are also careful to interact with all the issues of our Islamic nation. We are prepared to defend these issues and to make the Mauritanian people aware of these issues. We have made plenty of efforts in this regard. I believe that the Mauritanians have proven in recent years that they have made full interaction with the central issues of their nation despite the long geographic distance and the fact that Mauritania is not a major country in any of these conflicts. [Passage omitted, noting that tempting the party with cabinet portfolios will not make the party stop its sponsorship of national issues]


[Rashidi] If the Mauritanian people ever give you a mandate to run the government, what will be the platform that you will present to them?


[Mansour] We will offer them our platform that was published at the party”s website on the Internet. It consists of a series of economic, legal, political, cultural and social proposals. If they need any kind of counselling, advice or details, we will offer them a platform not a religious document. [Passage omitted commending the ability of the Mauritanian people to learn and act quickly]


[Rashidi] The policy of the United States and its allies in the region is to harass the Islamist parties. How does your party survive the US, Zionist and Western pressure which is afraid of the success of the Islamic political experiment?


[Mansour] We know that the policy of the United States and its allies is to harass Islamist parties despite the fact that these parties are pragmatic because they can retreat at times and minimize their exaggeration at other times.


Generally speaking, the Islamic political trend in the Arab and Islamic worlds does need the US approval or the approval of the domineering Western forces. This trend has become a fact. Nonetheless, our differences with the West should not prompt us to offer ourselves as the antithesis of the West. On the contrary, we are advocates of cooperation, dialogue and understanding, but on the basis of the respect of our constants, principles and national interests. Once these are secured, we are prepared to cooperate. However, we refuse to become instruments in the hands of the West to implement its designs. The Islamist trend has become a fact, and the West will be compelled to do business with it, whether it likes it or not. [Passage omitted noting that the National Rally for Reform and Development could become the party that serves Mauritania in the best fashion because it is known for it fairness and straitforwardness]


Originally published by Ikhwanonline website, Cairo, in Arabic 3 Aug 08.