Photo Essay: Mauritania mass rally 12 March 2012


Just amazing to see so many women at a protest

I added some new photos to the gallery, too. A very nice one of @mejdmr holding a sign saying “Irhal” – “Leave!”

Video and photographs from the rally shows the incredible numbers who took part.

  • you can hear them chanting “al-sha’b yurid isqat al-nizam” (the people want the downfall of the regime).

Clip of some chanting here: youtube
This longer video shows the crowds gathering and marching, and features some of the speeches that were made.

I’ve collected some photos posted online today from the huge rally in Nouakchott, the biggest one in the history of Mauritania according to local contacts. Estimates vary for actual numbers, from anywhere between 20,000 and 80,000. Regardless, it was a massive show of strength and a clear signal to Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who could not fail to hear tens of thousands of people all chanting that they want the downfall of the regime. The coalition of political opposition parties (there are at least a dozen) made the call, and many activist and civil society groups joined them. Some – such as the powerful IRA leadership – only joined at the “last minute”.

Once the crowds had assembled, various members of the opposition gave a series of short speeches, mainly focused on the fact that both the president and the parliament are illegal and illegitimate, as explained in an earlier post.

For many activists today was like the realization of a dream, a great throng of chanting people surrounding the grey palace, as the presidential residence is known. Even Al Jazeera acknowledged the scale was something special. Recently “privatised” Mauritanian State TV behaved like every channel in every country that has experienced an uprising in the past 15 months, and tried to play down the entire affair.

Rumours were rife over the past few days about the regime making plans to disrupt the rally. There was some evidence of disruption, including distribution of flyers, slowing traffic, and arranging deliveries of food rations to help the poorest neighbourhoods (who are suffering the effects of increased food prices and water shortages the most) at the same time as the march was due to start. In spite of all these efforts, the march went ahead, and there was very little police presence. This is quite remarkable considering that just yesterday police were firing tear gas and sound grenades and attacking students at the Islamic Institute where a boycott of exams was in progress. Among the 10 female students that were beaten by police on Sunday was a girl who is 8 month’s pregnant. Latest reports are that she is unwell but stable. The news of police attacking girls was probably a deciding factor for a significant number of students who joined the protest. For the past few months, they have made a point of isolating themselves from other events. But today saw people from every imaginable group and sector of Mauritania’s kaleidoscopic society.

A government rally is planned for tomorrow in the country’s second largest city, and centre of the fishing trade, Nouadhibou. It will be interesting to see what happens after today’s massive turn-out. Will the government be able to bus in and bribe enough people to match today’s tour de force in the capital, or will they be feeling overwhelmed and back down to try and save the embarrassment of a poor turnout?

Also tomorrow, a convoy of activists arrive in Nouakchott from Nouadhibou, having covered the 470 kilometre trek on foot since their departure on March 1st. They are heading for the presidential palace, in order to present their list of grievances  concerning social and economic hardship and injustice. A big crowd is expected to go out to meet them and join them on the last leg of their journey.

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Mauritania’s Feb25 Movement 1st Anniversary


The movement of February 25 in Mauritania celebrated it’s first anniversary with a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Nouakchott.

What marks the major difference between protests organised by m25fev and other activist groups, such as the students of ISERI for example, is their total commitment to non-violence, even in the face of extreme provocation. In the year since the birth of the movement this group has had to contend with many difficulties and disadvantages, including threats, harassment, competitors, imitators, smear campaigns and infiltrators.

The original idea was a march, beginning at the National Hospital and proceeding to the Presidential Palace. Plans and invitations were passed along by SMS, word of mouth, posters, flyers and of course using the website, FaceBook page and Twitter.  Some activists also took advantage of shared taxi journeys (a common feature of daily life in Mauritania) to spread word. The police, continuing the pattern of attacking any and all protests with violence, were positioned in large numbers – about 1000 according to some estimates – around the hospital. Police also set up roadblocks in all directions.

The result of police action prevented some people from gathering but a large contingent did manage to gather at the hospital. There were verbal confrontations with police from the outset, and some dramatic incidents:

  • one of the local Police Commissioners tried to run a protester down with his vehicle while police constantly kettled and dispersed activists and confiscated their mobile phones and cameras
  • after making a few arrests, police surrounded a mosque which activists entered to attend early evening prayers
  • once prayers were over the police violence increased and journalists from Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Sahara Media were harassed and had their cameras confiscated. At least one reporter was detained
  • believing they had neutralized both professional and citizen media the police further increased their aggression with a barrage of tear gas, percussion grenades and physical abuse using batons, fists, and boots.
  • the hospital was surrounded, and all exits sealed before the tear gas was used.
  • some patients inside the hospital were affected by the tear gas
  • at least one residence was hit by tear gas grenades
  • About 40 people were injured and a total of 17 arrests and some subsequent releases were reported throughout the demonstration, which lasted several hours.
  • at least one activist was taken to the city limits and stranded there by police
  • opposition MPs joined activists at the police headquarters to demand the release of remaining detainees, and all were freed after a few hours.
  • while in custody activists were questioned about their family or tribal ties and political affiliations

Despite all of the above, the day was a resounding victory for the movement from a moral and organisational standpoint.

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Mauritania ISERI Student’s “Day of Rage” in Pictures


The latest in a series of protests by the students of the Islamic Institute in Nouakchott, echoed by similar protests in other regional institutes in Mauritania, took place on Wednesday 22 February. It seems the government hoped to defuse the tension, despite still holding about 30 students in detention, announcing on Tuesday 22 February denying that they ever planned to close the college. The students were not impressed or mollified and their Day of Rage went ahead. Elsewhere in Mauritania other protests were taking place, such as in Boutilimit, where students need internet and electricity to help support their studies.

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Despite the choice of name, the ISERI Day of Rage march started out peacefully as intended, with students chanting “peaceful, peaceful, peaceful”. But the police once again surrounded the college and nearby streets, firing tear gas and attacking the students with batons. Dozens of students were injured, including one who lost consciousness after being shot in the chest multiple times by either tear gas or rubber bullets. He was last reported in critical condition in the hospital. Another student had his arm broken, and a third was beaten and dragged face down across the ground before being bundled into a police wagon.  One protester was run over by police who were chasing him; and from the hospital, there were reports of police storming into the emergency room in search of students. I saw reports of about a dozen students being arrested, though some were later released.

After a few hours the police withdrew, saying they had run out of tear gas. The ISERI students counted their losses and took care of injured comrades before calling a press conference to condemn the brutality of the police response to their peaceful protest. They are considering changing their goals to demand the resignation of the director and principal of the institute. While they were in the presser, one of the marginally popular independent news websites in Mauritania tried to start a rumour that president Ould Abdel Aziz has said he would not run in the next presidential election. Most people I saw commenting found this entirely predictable and it bore the brunt of many jokes.

Video of the protest:

The ISERI protests have an interesting history. They sparked seemingly out of nowhere the day before the visit Emir of Qatar visited Mauritania, on January 5, 2012. You might remember the bizarre and groundless rumour about Aziz and the Emir having fallen out. The way the police reacted so violently to the protests from the very start was a marked change from their previous behaviour.

This evening there was an interview about ISERI on Al Jazeera – surely by now a rite of passage for every protest movement.

I read more than one report from those who watched the broadcast that it seemed to show the students in a negative light. This should not come as any surprise given that there was no student representative in the Al Jazeera studio. There are always mixed reactions to any Al Jazeera coverage of protests, and this was no exception. Wednesday just happened to be the day that Mauritania launched a new satellite TV channel on ArabSat, “Chinguetti TV”. Based in Saudi Arabia, ArabSat was founded in 1976 by the 21 member states of the Arab League (there are now 22) and also carries Al Jazeera channels.

I include these points because it is worth considering whether there is any connection between the seemingly unrelated events of the Emir’s visit; the ISERI protests; the unusually violent police response; and the very occasional Al Jazeera coverage potentially being slanted against the students, and being broadcast on the same day that satellite TV was made available to a wider audience inside Mauritania.

Gallery: ISERI Student Protests in Mauritania

مناضل واحـــد فـي مـواجــهــة كتيبــة شــرطــة بـكـاملـهـا… كم أنـتـم جبنــاء يــا شرطتنــا الــوطنــيــة..
26 Jan 2012 - ISERI students clashed with police in Nouakchott

"Outnumbered" 26 Jan 2012 - ISERI students clashed with police in Nouakchott

Police response has been excessive since the start of the protests against closure of the Nouakchott institute in December 2011.

See also:

Meet Mauritania’s Future

More Injustice and Intrigue in Mauritania

AlJazeera Journo Harassed at Mauritania #ISERI Protest

Murder in Tehran – Listening Post – Al Jazeera English

Vodpod videos no longer available.

[Al Jazeera English] Murder in Tehran could be the title of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but this is not a movie.

On January 11, the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist to be assassinated in two years was blown up by a magnetic bomb attached to his car door. And while the media did not reveal Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan’s assassin, they did reveal their own agendas and double standards.

Iranian media instantly pointed the finger at Israel. As ever, the Israelis neither confirmed nor denied. Over in the US and the UK, mainstream media outlets used his death as yet another beat in the drum roll for war against the Islamic Republic.

In this week’s News Divide, we look at what the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist says about the news media and their own agendas.

Murder in Tehran – Listening Post – Al Jazeera English.