domingo, 3 de maio de 2009

The Qadhafi Virus Strikes Mauritania

Some points in the wake of Qadhafi’s visit to Mauritania.

1. The opposition is increasingly united in it irritation with Qadhafi’s mediation, which has been characterized variously as biased, “reckless,” and “dangerous”. His speech was in typical fashion: Harkening to Fatimid glory, the role of Mauritania in spreading Islam through Africa, the folly of democracy and the Mauritanian project in particular: “There is no difference between elections and coups” claiming that “elections lead to undermining the stability of countries, which is the most important thing in nations’ lives”. Opposition leaders Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, Ahmed Ould Daddah and others walked out. Mauritanians appear to have dismissed Qadhafi’s seven point plan for the resolution of the crisis: His remarks in support of the junta have rendered it without credibility. Instead of resolving the crisis, Qadhafi’s arrival seems to have brought opposition elements closer together in their opposition to the junta and to Libya’s attempt to move in. Despite his own appeals to the contrary it is widely believed that the visit was intended to aggrandize Qadhafi rather than to solve anything in Mauritania. According to elements from the opposition who were contacted by Qadhafi, Aziz told the Brother Leader flat out that he intends to run for president in this year’s election. Irritation with the junta’s external backers — at present Libya is the strongest — has turned a great deal of opinion, both within the opposition and among the people, against the junta. Factions within Ould Boulkheir’s party (e.g. Nasserists) have been working to bring the APP to Abdel Aziz, with little luck.
2. The American policy holds increasing relevance in Mauritania, especially in the wake of the visit. Opposition figures wonder what the American position is, how or if it will change. A general sense is growing that the Europeans will compromise for a legal return to the status quo ante, without a resolution or reform of the country’s structural problems, that the African Union has let the country down (and that that it is incapable of doing anything else with Qadhafi at its head), and that the Arabs have used the country as a means of displaying their recurrent irrelevance (a former Mauritanian diplomat involved with the Arab League described the body as “an empty shell”). The United States’ uncompromising position that some Mauritanians are beginning to associate with a way out of the crisis and with a stand for legitimate rule. More on this in a later post, however. If this visit is any indication of how Qadhafi will handle crises as AU chairman going forward, the African Union is in for serious trouble: Like a certain virus, Qadhafi’s strategic ambitions generally require a host body (or institution) — be it of Arab nationalist or pan-Africanist form — and once the course has been run, the host institution dies, with chaos in its wake.
3. Ironically, the country’s most fiercely anti-US political organization, the Islamist Tawassoul, is one of the prime beneficiaries of the stand against the junta. It should also be mentioned that the junta, having aped one of Tawassoul’s main issues — relations with Israel — has taken away much of its relevance from a populist standpoint. It is also notable that the responses to the closing of the Israeli embassy from the eastern Arabs — KSA, Jordan and Egypt — were especially muted. Even leftists seem to have ignored the move. The point was firstly for domestic consumption and secondarily a means of securing support from the better monied radical states like Libya and Iran. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, for its part, has blamed Algeria, Libya and Iran for Mauritania’s sour attitude: Naming Algeria does little to help their cause, as Algiers has been active in working to undermine the junta in Africa and abroad.
4. A note on turn out. It must be said that Qadhafi’s personnel took over security in the Nouakchott’s Olympic Stadium during the visit. A Mauritanian related a story in which he was asked somewhat gruffly by a Libyan security guard if he wanted to enter the stadium to see Qadhafi’s speech. He said no. Others were invited in, and many went on their way. Those who were in attendance, aside from the regular political jumble, were mostly poor locals, often paid to show up to [state-sponsored] political rallies or to greet foreign dignitaries in throngs at the airport or roadside. The mood was not described as hot with wonder at the robbed Libyan’s arrival. Rather, his arrival was described in terms of indignation — how dare the Libyans come into Mauritania with their guards and soldiers, try to impose a solution in support of an illegitimate military regime. “Another foreigner trying to outsmart us” is how one termed the visit. As for why Qadhafi turned in Nouakchott and not Azougui as was originally planned, the best bet is that he changed his mind at the last minute (Libya’s foreign policy seems to be made half from rational calculation and half on the basis of Qadhafi’s mood), considering the harshness and obscurity of that locale (a Mauritanian grumbled that “he is no real bedouin”) and that the capital would deliver his message more clearly.

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