Mauritania is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on March 31. The vote, originally slated for last fall, was delayed (French) in response to objections from an opposition coalition called la Coordination de l’opposition démocratique (COD, “The Coordination of Democratic Opposition”). The COD is still unhappy with the regime and with the political environment in Mauritania as a whole.
On Monday, the COD held a march in the capital Nouakchott to “press for an end to military rule.” This demand implies that Mauritania’s ostensibly civilian government, headed by former general – and now president – Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, is just a front for continued military rule (the military ruled Mauritania from 1978 to 2007, and then took power again in a coup in 2008, before organizing elections in 2009). The COD’s broader list of demands (Arabic) includes a call for President Abdel Aziz step down. The COD also affirms its commitment to Islamic values (not an unusual statement in Mauritanian politics) and its opposition to any threat against national unity, particularly racial divisions.
Participants in the march (French) included the major opposition party le Rassemblement des forces démocratiques (RFD, “Rally of Democratic Forces”) and the Islamist party Tewassoul. Messaoud Boulkheir, president of the national assembly, and his l’Alliance populaire progressiste (APP, “Popular Progressive Alliance”) did not participate. This split reflects Boulkheir’s decision to participate in dialogues with the president last fall, dialogues that the COD boycotted.
What does the COD hope to achieve? The marchers have not, from what I have been able to tell, openly tied their protest to the electoral calendar. Yet the timing seems no accident. Perhaps the COD hopes to delay elections again, or perhaps they are preparing for a boycott. Additionally, some of the demands expressed in this march are similar to those put forth by youth protesters last spring, particularly the idea that the military still has too much influence in politics. But it does not seem (again, according to what I’ve read) that the march on Monday was explicitly tied to the rhetoric of the “Arab uprisings,” but rather to complaints about local Mauritanian affairs. Whatever the case, the COD is saying that this march marks the launch of a larger struggle. Taking them at their word, it seems we can expect more moves from their side soon.