Mauritanian’s ruling party, the Union for the Republic, yesterday (October 26) issued a statement against Islamophobia. The statement refers obliquely to recent “waves of offense to our pure (hanif*) Islamic religion and our Prophet, upon him be the best of blessings and the most befitting peace.” The statement goes on to argue, quite effectively in my view, that Islamophobia in the name of free speech undercuts “the spirit of openness and understanding the particularities of the other,” as well as the “goal of making humanity into a single society.” The statement does not call for other countries, in other words European countries, to ban anti-Islamic speech, nor does it call for any particular policy response, nor does it (in my reading) make any threats, it just condemns anti-Islamic speech and calls for a model of coexistence based on mutual respect.
Two contextual points:
- The UPR is not an Islamist party but you do not have to be an Islamist to make a statement like this, especially in a virtually 100% Muslim society that proclaims itself an Islamic Republic. I think it can be assumed here that the UPR here speaks for the president as well.
- I myself have only vaguely been following the latest developments in France and elsewhere, the developments that clearly prompted this statement from the UPR. Shoot the messenger if you like – but my point is that some people in the Sahel are clearly paying close attention to those developments and are very troubled by them. And issuing a statement like this does not mean the UPR is tacitly endorsing violence or anything like that.
- The UPR is far from the only ruling party, or ruler, issuing statements like this. The tone varies a lot, though. See Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement, for example, which is much more direct about criticizing French President Emmanuel Macron.
*hanif is a hard word to translate; it can also mean “monotheist,” “sincere,” etc.
On 15 September, Mauritania held the second round of its simultaneous legislative, municipal, and regional elections, following the first round on 1 September. Jeune Afrique has a good breakdown of the key outcomes here; most importantly, the second round saw the ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) increase its number of parliamentary deputies from 67 in the first round to 89 overall, out of 157 total seats in the assembly. UPR also extended its domination of Nouakchott’s communes, going from 5/9 before the elections to 6/9 afterwards. At both the legislative and the municipal level, the Islamist party Tewassoul was in second place, sometimes in coalition with the HATEM party. According to official estimates, turnout fell from 75% in the first round to 55% in the second round.
Some of the municipal results can be found here. Picking almost at random (someone should write a paper on these data, they’re fascinating), a few patterns stand out:
- Sometimes Tewassoul and UPR really ran neck and neck. For example, in the commune of Aouleiygat in the region of Trarza, Tewassoul won by fewer than two hundred votes – and the ultimate outcome was 9 seats for Tewassoul, 8 for UPR. Jeune Afrique notes this pattern as well.
- Again, I’m struck by Tewassoul’s ability to compete far beyond Nouakchott – here is a commune in Al-Hodh al-Gharbi, Devaa, where they edged out UPR 10 seats to 9. There are many places where Tewassoul obtained no seats, and UPR has wider representation overall, but Tewassoul is not just a Nouakchott-based party by any means.
- The UPR-Tewassoul rivalry is not at all the whole story of the elections – even together, their vote share in the first round was under 50%. In the municipal elections, UPR was beaten out in many communes by other parties. One example is Moudjeria in Tagant, where the Democratic Renewal Party won 7 seats to UPR’s four.
Mauritania held the first round of its legislative, regional, and local elections on 1 September (see my previous post on the topic here). A second round is scheduled for 15 September. Following the abolishment of the country’s Senate in last year’s referendum, Mauritania has a unicameral National Assembly with 157 seats.
Final results did not appear until 8 September, which caused some outcry in the country. The ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) won 67 seats this round. The second-best scoring party was the Islamists, Tewassoul, who received 14 seats – a loss of two seats, actually, over its numbers from 2013 parliament.
Let’s go into a bit more detail with the results. At the Independent National Electoral Commission’s site, you can find three sets of legislative results – results for the national party lists, for women’s seats, and for departments.
Within the national party list results, here is the breakdown by percentage of the vote:
- UPR: 19.47% or 136,809 votes
- Tewassoul: 11.28% or 79,283 votes
- Then you have parties that received less than 5% of the vote, or between 1,000 and slightly over 30,000 votes. In descending order, the third- through seventh-place finishers were: Union for Democracy and Progress (UDP), Karama, National Democratic Alliance Party (AND), Union of the Forces of Progress (UFP), and the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD).
The percentages and order are roughly equivalent for the women’s list, although UPR’s and Tewassoul’s percentages were slightly higher on that one (19.6% and 12.6%, respectively).
At the departmental level, a few basic patterns appear:
- In Nouakchott, the capital, Tewassoul edged out UPR, 13% to 12.6%.
- In some places, such as Kaedi (map), UPR’s numbers were much higher than for the national lists (here, 30% of the vote), while Tewassoul’s share collapsed (here, to 3.6%, and that was in coalition with another Islamist party) and other parties took the second-place spot (here, UPD). Nevertheless, one should not conclude that Tewassoul’s appeal is limited to Nouakchott – they remained the second-place finisher even in eastern areas like Aïoun. UPR did very well, though, in the far east, in places such as Néma.
- Some parties are hometown favorites – Karama, for example, was the first-place finisher in M’Bout (map).
In short, UPR did well enough across the country to stay in the fight everywhere, and in some places it was far and away the dominant force.