Yesterday marked the first time that Mauritanian activist Biram Dah Abeid (or Ould Abeid), president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), set foot in parliament as a member of the body. He was arrested last August along with another IRA leader and two journalists, then was elected to the National Assembly in September’s legislative elections. He was released from prison in late December (RFI gives the date as December 31). In the parliamentary elections, he ran on the list of the Baathist Sawab Party, in an alliance that may have more to do with strategic partnership than with ideological affinity. Overall, of course, the ruling Union for the Republic is the largest party in parliament.
Numerous profiles have been written about Abeid over the years. One of the best appeared in the New Yorker in 2014. An excerpt:
When Abeid was eight, his father told him that he had been born to a slave, and was therefore supposed to be a slave, too. But, while his mother was pregnant, her master had fallen ill, and, heeding the Koranic idea that acts of benevolence will be rewarded, had released him from slavery before he was born. As a young man, Abeid’s father crossed the river to work for a time in Senegal, where he felt free from racial discrimination. Back in Mauritania, he met and married a woman who was a slave, and they had two sons. Full of pride, he went to his wife’s master to ask to take his family to Senegal. The master refused. His father went to court, but the judge said, “This is his slave—unless you want to buy her from him.” His father did not have enough money, so he pleaded to at least take his sons, but the judge refused him again. The French colonial governor told Abeid’s father that the dispute fell under Islamic law and that he could not interfere. Defeated, the father left his wife and children and went back to Senegal. Later, a friend introduced him to Abeid’s mother, and they were married.
There is also a wider discussion of race and Islam in Mauritania in Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem’s Prêcher dans le désert.