This blog is no longer active, but I continue to post at the group blog MAGHREB POLITICS REVIEW.

Aug 6, 2008

Mohammed ould Abdelaziz: Curriculum Vitae

Mauritania's head of the State Council -- the newly installed junta -- was born in Akjoujt in western Mauritania in 1956, into a clan of the ouled bou Sbaa tribe. He joined the army in 1977, aged 21, and was sent to military school in Meknès in Morocco, as were many other officers of his generation -- this was when Mauritania was allied to Morocco in trying to occupy the southern half of Western Sahara from 1975 onwards. The war went badly -- very badly -- and the president fell already in 1978. Unsteady junta rule followed. This meant a rapid turnover of higher officers, and ould Abdelaziz rose through the ranks.

During the ould el-Tayaa dictatorship (1984-2005) he served as head of the elite presidential guard (BASEP), which he founded and organized himself. In 2003, he played a major role in cracking an oppositional coup attempt supported by Baathists and Islamists among others, which led to fighting in Nouakchott; in 2004, he helped strike down another alleged coup.

It was as head of BASEP that he and a number of similarly well-placed co-conspirators seized power in in August 2005, when ould el-Tayaa was out of the country. Another ould bou Sbaa henchman for ould el-Tayaa, Col. Ely ould Mohammed Vall, headed the junta, but ould Abdelaziz stayed (mostly) quiet although his influence was widely felt. Vall seems to have voluntarily left politics after the transition to democracy, but ould Abdelaziz and several others did not. (Lesson: look beyond the front man: then Vall, now Abdelaziz.) The political climate improved greatly, but again, rapid shifts on the power-posts in the army and security establishment ensued, as former putschists and the new-old political class fought it out bureaucratically.

It became clear that ould Abdelaziz was becoming locked in a struggle with the increasingly assertive President Abdellahi -- who the junta had helped get elected in 2007, by mobilizing l'ancien régime in his favor -- and along with a few other officers (Gen. Mohammed ould Ghazouani, Félix Négri, etc) he emerged as the main face of an ever more disgruntled military establishment. Social and economic issues and terrorism helped to aggravate the situation, as well as the president's aloof governing style and corrupt environment, and conspiracy theories about impending coups and intrigues mushroomed. The Abdelaziz-Ghazouani clique put increasing pressure on the president after he dismissed the government of Prime Minister ould Zeidane, and installed a new government headed by one of his personal loyalists, Ahmed ould Yahya el-Wagf; by enlisting parliamentary support, the officers swiftly brought that government down, and the president was weakened.

On the morning of August 6, 2008, almost exactly three years after the 2005 coup d'état, ould Abdelaziz was sacked by the president. He immediately responded by seizing power, cancelling his own dismissal, and ... then what? He seems not too sure himself.

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