Army commanders ousted Mauritania‘s first freely elected president in two decades, President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, in a military coup d'état Wednesday after political feuding over the firing of the country's four top generals. Military commanders announced the formation of a new state council and its leader, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (one of the four fired generals), on state radio and television stations. General Abdel Aziz was also involved in a 2005 coup d'état in Mauritania.
Talking to informed Mauritanians, some of them saw the coup coming during the summer (as it did), in the autumn, or not at all. My sense was always that the coup would come this summer (I never wrote this expressly but I expressed this view in discussion and refrained from commenting on the crisis (1) because Western Sahara Info. covered it well and there is not point in competing when you’re one of two or three bloggers paying attention to it, (2) I wanted to make sure that if I “predicted” it I would not be wrong; I could have said, “by the end of May/June/July/August Sidi’s government will be no more” and been wrong; I’m no weather man, and (3) I’ve yet to encounter a Mauritanian that had positive things to say about Sidi beyond his golden personality). One of the major pressures that forced Sidi to act the way he did towards the end was the threat of a commission being formed to investigate the financial side of his wife’s foundation, which would surely have done him in ever more deeply. The commission might even have made his administration’s ridiculous personal expenditures public. For instance, I am told that his air travels alone cost the state some $2 billion, on chartered jets, his family, full entourage, and various other luxuries. He was between a rock and a hard place: Either he would be forced to step down (a la Olmert) in total shame, or he would be impelled to dissolve parliament and reorganize his government, which would precipitate a coup such as today’s, allowing him to save political face. Flanked on both sides, he moved in desperation and met his fate.
Western Sahara Info has been blogging the crisis from its outset, and today provided up-to-the-minute information on the coup, including a brief analysis:
Quick analysis, which I may regret: a tragedy for Mauritanian democracy, on the one hand, but that didn't stand much of a chance anyway; but more importantly, a giant setback for the country's broader chances of political development. While President Abdellahi and his cronies aren't exactly angels, Generals Ghazouani and Abdelaziz represent the very worst military-parasitic element of the Mauritanian regime, and their refusal to let the civilian side of the regime settle down in power threatens to undo it completely in the long run. If the last coup, in August 2005, could be met with cautious understanding by the international community, having unseated President ould Tayaa, and eventually with praise as it led to a real transformation, this time around it is different. What happened in 2005 was that a military-personal-tribal dictatorship was overthrown and the chance arrived to replace it with a civilian semi-authoritarian structure that respected most democratic norms most of the time, and which made sensible moves towards national reconciliation, refugee return and economic development; not heaven, but infinitely better. This change is now being reversed. The putschists — even though they are some of the same people as acted in 2005 — must be condemned and the result of the coup overturned if possible; Mauritania had a golden opportunity to break its vicious circle, and it is now slipping away.
Roads to Iraq, in a post entitled “American orchestrated coup in Mauritania,” reports the news as well:
Things are happening rapidly in Mauritania, started with a coup this morning, issuing the “statement no 1” on the Mauritanian TV, changing the Head of the TV because he refused to cooperate with the army chief who staged the coup, and announcing a new military junta.
In Egypt, Bella [Ar] says what happened in Mauritania proved that Arabs weren't cut for democracy.
يبدو أن الممارسة الديمقراطية لم تُخلق لشعوب مثل شعوبنا لاتستطيع التنفس خارج الحكم العسكري
It seems that democracy wasn't made for people like us – who cannot breathe outside military rule.
After giving us a brief history of Mauritania's young democracy, Bella writes:
وهكذا ياسادة لم تكد موريتانيا تنعم بممارسة الديمقراطية في تجربة رائدة كنا جميعا نغبطها عليها حتى عادت ريما لعادتها القديمة وتدخل العسكر وحدث الانقلاب
This way, Mauritania, which was just about to reap the fruit of democracy in a pioneering move which the entire region was eyeing with excitement, things return to what they were originally, and the military intervened and the coup happened.
Kuwaiti Wild Il Deera poses a few questions about the coup. He asks:
ما هو موقف جامعة الدول العربية من قادة الإنقلاب؟
ألم يكن الرئيس الموريتاني رئيساً منتخباً من الشعب؟
كيف لمؤسسة سياسية مثل الجامعة تطلب أن تُحترم عربيا و دولياً أن تقبل بحدوث إنقلاب عسكري على نظام أحد دولها الأعضاء!
What is the stance of the Arab League from the leaders of this coup?
Wasn't the Mauritanian leader elected by his people?
How can a political group, like the Arab League, which demands that it is respected in Arab and international arenas allow such a military coup to take place in one of its member countries?
Prolific Moroccan blogger Larbi [fr] linked to a news article, remarking:
On peut le dire : l'Afrique est un continent maudit !
His post garnered significant response. Citoyen commented:
Il est vrai que les putschs sont imprévisibles en Afrique…mais je me demande, quand même, si cette fois-ci encore, les services marocains ont été pris de court comme en août 2005 ?
It is true that coups are unpredictable in Africa…I wonder, though, if again, the Moroccan services have been caught short as they were in August 2005?
Finally KABOBfest, always one to inject humor into every situation, remarks somewhat facetiously:
Whereas coup culture in a lot of countries is a thing of the past (e.g., Syria ain't had a coup in a few decades) some countries like to kick it old skool, harking back to when it seemed like there was a coup-a-week somewhere in the world. While Mauritania isn't Fiji, they are keeping the tradition of pointless coups alive and well in the Arab world.
The Arabdemocracy blog also has an excellent “obituary” for the young democracy that was.
Photo above is of Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, by Marcello Casal Jr./Abr (Setember 2007)