The 400km “March of Last Hope” by activists from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott, Mauritania has started on schedule, joined by trade unionists, teachers, businessmen and other citizens. As happened last year in Nouakchott with the February 25 Movement, fake flyers using the group’s logo were being circulated in Nouadhibou by regime supporters trying to undermine the activists. After 42km the march has stopped for the night. Tomorrow they resume the long walk to Nouakchott. I am concerned for their safety, in case the regime sends thugs to attack while they sleep, but knowing that some 25 Fev movement activists are with them gives me confidence, because I know they will mount guards in shifts throughout the night.
UPDATE 03:00 2 March: Report (no link yet) that a news site has reported the government has decided to make the prisoner swap to save gendarme Ely Ould Mokhtar.
This is perhaps the last day of young gendarme Ely Ould Mokhtar, kidnapped from his post by AQIM in December 2011. The AQIM issued a message giving the authorities an ultimatum to release two AQIM prisoners shortly after the incident. The official response was chilling; they said a gendarme knows that death is a work hazard, and they would not be taking any action. On 11 February 2012, they restated their demands and gave the government 20 days to respond or they would execute Ely. Activists, human rights organizations, politicians, officials, family and friends have all protested to the Mauritanian government demanding action, but without success. The only faint glimmer of hope comes via an opposition figure who may have been able to get a message to AQIM through an intermediary, and is rumoured to be hopeful that the execution will at least be postponed, perhaps the gendarme’s life may even be spared.
A Yemen MP has questions for the PM about a group of prisoners seen in a car belonging to the Ministry of Intelligence being taken into the US Embassy building in Sana’a for questioning by US intel agents. (Qatar is the 51st state).
Mauritania is trying to make sense of the governments efforts to combat the effects of drought and price increases, but the stated plans are impossible to reconcile with experience on the ground. The new shops that were to be opened are fewer than expected, and provide perhaps half of the promised provisions. The allocations of feed for livestock are being treated as a joke: for example, 200 grams of feed per day for a cow, less than the amount allocated for a sheep and, as one wag put it, not even enough for a chicken!
The government of Mauritania lost its legitimacy in November 2011, when the mandate of the last election expired, yet continues to rule the country and has postponed the elections indefinitely. The failed national registration scheme was supposed to underpin the election process. As the prospect of elections has faded, the campaign that raged from April 2011 with accusations of racism in the national registration process has fallen into silence. It is widely accepted that the government tries to create division using racist propaganda, and so I am left with serious doubts about some of the motivating forces that were helping to propel the “Don’t Touch My Nationality” campaign. No doubt there was (is?) a solid core of genuine activists involved, but infiltration and subversion are common issues for all activist groups in Mauritania. It’s quite frustrating that a year after the first protests of 25 February 2011, there is still a lack of unison. The wounds inflicted by traitors who were too easily coaxed to side with the government, infiltrators who acted as regime agents, and the splinter groups spawned in response to the inevitable erosion of trust, have yet to heal. Several groups still act independently of one another, and in such a small country this has a massive dampening effect on all forms of protest.
The current main preoccupations of this super-soft coup administration are a dance of calling for dialogue between the opposition and the majority members of parliament while cramming as many legislative and constitutional changes as possible into the political vacuum. While these activities provide a distraction, behind the scenes the junta is busy in almost back-to-back meetings on regional security, dozens of US troops have been in Atar for over a month, and the FBI has opened an office in Nouakchott. . Tonight there is a TV programme planned to discuss the latest constitutional changes. Just as with the dialog and the conference called this week, many members of the opposition have chosen to boycott the TV debate. The problem with boycotting every debate is that the opposition are denying themselves the opportunity to confront the administration on any of the important issues, and denying citizens the chance to witness it. Fortunately, some of the die-hards attended and made good use of the platform to make strong statements about the current situation and to demand an end to military rule.
The fact that the government has not got a valid mandate is inescapable. Yet international governments and organisations continue to deal with Aziz and his colleagues, because it serves their interests to do so. They are corrupt to the core, yet Transparency International gives them the thumbs up. They are reckless in their lack of care for the environment in mining, fishing, agriculture, water supply, education, infrastructure, and electricity, yet are never called to account. Food and fuel price inflation is growing faster than ever, yet the IMF has only praise for their performance. The entire country is in hock to the international community for billions, yet all the government does to service this debt is make minimal interest payments. Peaceful protests are met with violent repression, activists arrested and tortured, yet president of Tunisia and former human rights advocate Moncef Marzouki treats Aziz as though he was the product of a successful revolution instead of the reason for one. This past month Mauritania’s insatiable dictatorship has gone all out to secure sufficient refugees from Mali on their territory to bring more sources of funding and food to increase the opportunities for plunder.
More weapons and Kofi Anan heading to Syria, as UK evacuates embassy
Apart from the stain of corruption on his history, it bothers me to see Kofi Anan chatting happily with Iran FM Salehi in Geneva in this video describing his mission to Syria as joint Arab League and UN envoy. Most intriguing is the report that 120 French troops have been captured by regime forces in the Zabadani region (near the border with Lebanon), and which has not received any official response as yet. I saw another similar report on 28 Feb which claimed either 12 or 19 French soldiers had been captured in Syria. If either report was true the Syrian regime would be beaming the pictures all round the world 24 hours a day.
US gov pays $5million bail for 16 NGO suspects as the final 7 leave Egypt
Seven Americans on trial over charges their pro-democracy groups fomented unrest flew out of Egypt Thursday after the U.S. posted nearly $5 million in bail for them and nine others who managed to leave before a travel ban was imposed following a crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights groups by the Egyptian government.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed relief that the Americans were free, but she pointedly noted that no decision has been made about the $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic assistance slated for Egypt this year. Nuland pointed out that the 16 Americans facing charges are not expected to return to Egypt, but their trial has not been called off. After the first session Sunday, it was adjourned until April, and that ruling still stands.