This blog is no longer active, but I continue to post at the group blog MAGHREB POLITICS REVIEW.

Mar 13, 2009

Mauritania, Qadhafi, and the Arab world

[Cross-posted to Maghreb Politics Review] -- At The Moor Next Door, MPR's fearsome strongman, Kal, adds up the results of Muammar el-Qadhafi's recent visit to Nouakchott, where he tried to mediate the Mauritanian crisis by unreservedly siding with the putschists. This didn't quite pan out, and his blatant partisanship surprised those who had seen Libya's previously intensive and consistent effort to come across as a possible bridge-builder -- the deposed president Abdellahi was given a head-of-state welcome in Sirte, and so on, to signify that Qadhafi was on good terms with both sides.

As Kal argues -- and I agree -- the end result of Libya's move from the middle to the fringe seems to be that the US/European position is strengthened. Washington has been militantly against the coup, while Europe under French leadership was equally vocal, but also hinted openly at a search for whatever pragmatic exit existed. If they would pool their resources to push hard for a solution alongside those local players that agree, they could probably make a real difference.

The Arab world, with a couple of prominent exceptions, remains negative or indifferent to the junta. Mauritania has gained some rare popular acclaim among Arabs for cutting ties with Israel, but on balance it didn't help to swing Arab states. Among the so-called 'radical' Arab states, Algeria (not terribly radical, under Bouteflika) was already firmly invested in the anti-coup camp, while Syria and Sudan have been too preoccupied with their own troubles to notice, and are unable to extend any help anyhow. (Yemen is also habitually railing against Israel, but I don't think Mauritania can expect any financial contributions from there...) It gained some limited applause from Qatar, and now there is this with Libya, although it's not obvious that the cut ties with Israel were behind Qadhafi's swing to full-blown partisanship. Among the so-called 'moderate' Arab states, the non-Qatari Gulf crowd, where the money is, all viewed this radical grandstanding very negatively, since they are presently under KSA leadership engaged in promoting a compromise line on Israel. For Egypt and Jordan, it's an absolute embarrassment -- it increases pressure on them to break their own ties with Israel. In Morocco, the government must have been quietly upset about the cut ties with Israel, given the back-breaking acrobatics that Rabat is presently performing to please Riyadh & Washington. But the government is, like Algeria's, much too invested in the situation to change sides or even punish the junta for the move.

Summing the Arab scene up, it's possible that Mauritania's Israel move was designed only to gain Qadhafi's total backing. If so, it seems to have succeeded (for what it's worth). If the embassy closure was designed to break its larger isolation, it's a failure, since it further alienated the West and a couple of Arab heavyweights, and didn't bring about change anywhere else. Finally, however, one shouldn't ignore the domestic factor: the Mauritanian public has opposed Israel's embassy since the day it opened, and despite the segmented nature of the Mauritanian polity, there's still a good political buck in wielding the Israel card.

At any rate, Qadhafi's first international action as head of the African Union ended in a serious anti-climax for him, depriving Libya of the swing role it had hoped for but adding a semi-powerful -- if double-edged -- support for the junta. With Qadhafi at the head of the AU, its previously stiff legalistic stand on the coup could also be in danger, given the flimsyness of its institutions and the Brother Leader's general disregard for, precisely, institutions. This could prove important, since the AU has so far been used as the international community's sanction canary, moving one step ahead of the rest. (About the AU, see also Ibn Kafka on MPR detaling the world of difference between a coup and a coup.)

Now, the ball is in the court of the US and Europe, and the quest to find another mediator is on. Let me guess that someone will sooner or later call on either Qatar, the UN or some African country to step in and work something out. It's either that or to wait for another coup, which given today's logjam would risk seriously destabilising the country, and also spoil the slim but intriguing chance that there could actually be a day when an African/Arab coup is overturned peacefully by foreign and internal pressure.

To read: great, long, and detailed sum-up of the whole Mauritanian coup story by Mohamed Lemine ould Bah at the Arab Reform Initiative.

1 comment:

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