Colebrand International Limited

August 14, 2008 07:07 ET

A Brave Choice for Survival for Mauritania and Her People

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwire - Aug. 14, 2008) - A military coup, a change of Government, without a single shot having been fired, without any military in the streets, without any disruption to travel or normal life, probably unprecedented anywhere.

Brave - because what has happened in the last few days goes against the fundamental and rightful expectations of democratic rule and order as the world sees it and this is fully recognised by the President.

Brave because the majority of the people of Mauritania stand behind the decision of the military but justifiably fear their dependency on the world being put in grave jeopardy with all the frightening consequences sanctions and isolation would bring - unless the world can understand and accept that the people of Mauritania and their leaders probably had no other choice than to act as they did. Not only in the interest of the Mauritanians but undoubtedly also because of the terrifying effects which would have been felt throughout Africa and the world.

Here is a point of view which tries to explain the events leading up to the present difficulties and the way forward to a truly democratic right of way in future.

No Coup in Mauritania

In August 2005 Colonel - now General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz and a group of senior officers put an end to the 21 year regime of Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya. Two decades of authoritarianism and nationwide corruption had been halted.

Cooperation between the African Union, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the United Nations and overseen by a temporary Military Council for Justice and Democracy led in 2007 to the first genuinely democratic presidential contest ever to be held in the Arab world. Additionally a new constitution was adopted by referendum, multiparty legislative elections were held, laws guaranteeing freedom of the press were adopted and anti corruption measures passed. The new Parliament included eighteen percent women members.

The world applauded such extraordinary achievements by Mauritania.

Against all expectations and promises made by the newly elected Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, he quickly refused to work with the coalition of mainstream parties preferring instead to work with smaller Islamic and radical groups. Throughout the year he travelled extensively overseas whilst the economy in the country ground to near standstill and terrorism gained a foothold. He even set free, against the advice of the security people, a group of terrorists who were detained during the transition of Government. These same people then executed a family of four French tourist on December 24 and three soldiers were also ambushed and killed shortly afterwards. On February 1 they attacked the Israeli embassy as well as assaults on residents in the capital in April.

In June, a group of parliamentarians put forward a vote of no-confidence to which Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi responded with a threat of dissolution of parliament. Similarly he stood in opposition to requests by the Senate to look into alleged misappropriation of public funds, including the affairs of a foundation headed by his wife. He then twice rejected a request by a majority of parliament to convene an extraordinary session to address these issues. This time he not only threatened to dissolve the national assembly but at the same time issued orders to replace the military leaders, the police and security.

Such insistent logic of undemocratic behaviour and mismanagement by the deposed president begs the question of the viability of the man's rule had the military - again those very same officers who had promised and delivered a democratic opening to Mauritania in 2005-2007 - been allowed to be unceremoniously and ungratefully dismissed. It has then fallen upon General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz and his colleagues to yet again rescue the country from collapse. The new leadership is now heading the country through a High Council of State. Calling for presidential elections to be organized as soon as possible, they have expressed their commitment to democratic institutions and have indeed a track record of protecting them when imperilled.

On August 12, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb voiced their violent opposition to the removal of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. The international community will have realised that, unorthodox as they may be, the action of the military may just have saved the destruction of Mauritania and avoided grave consequences for the rest of the world.

This article has been written by Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, a Mauritanian political scientist, formerly Associate Director of the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research.

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