The Ritual of Military Coup in Mauritania

On August 6th, the first democratically elected president of Mauritania, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, was overthrown in a military coup lead by the head of his presidential guard, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz. This happened after 48 lawmakers from the ruling party resigned and President Sidi decided to fire General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz and another senior military officer. So far, General Adbelaziz has formed a council of 11 members to govern Mauritania with the mission to reshape its democratic process and has promised free and fair elections in the shortest time possible. His predecessors claimed to have this same mission, but none of them ever achieved it.

This coup is a setback in many ways even though it was peacefully carried out.   For example after President Sidi was elected, he honored his promise to enforce the laws against slavery. This practice continues despite the fact that it was banned for the first time by French colonists in 1905, the second time by the pre-colonial constitution of 1960 and third time by the military government of Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla in 1981.

History of Military Coup in Mauritania  Since its independence from France in 1960, Mauritania has had six military coups.  The first was on July 10, 1978 by Colonel Mustafa Ould Salek, who overthrew the first Mauritanian President, Mr. Moktar Ould Dabdah, a civilian put in power by French colonialists after independence in 1960.

President Moktar’s regime was a one-party dictatorship which allowed him to be reelected without contest in 1966, 1971, and 1976.  After the coup, Col. Mustafa chaired the Military Committee for National Recovery (MRMN) and headed the state from July 10, 1978 to June 03, 1979.   Col. Mustafa’s government had to deal with the racial tensions between Mauritanian two main groups, the black and the moors, the economic crisis and the Western Sahara Polisario Front, a guerilla movement for the independence of  West Saraha from Morocco.

On June 3, 1979, the second Mauritanian military coup was led by Colonel Mahmoud Ould Ahmed Louly and his fellow officers.  As chairman of the Committee for National Salvation (MCNS) he headed the state until January 4, 1980 when he was removed from power by Colonel Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla in the third Mauritanian military coup.

Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla became the chairman of the MCNS and head of state from January 4, 1980 to December 12, 1984.   It is during his presidency in 1981, because of public protest against slavery, that the government passed the third Mauritania antislavery law .   Col. Khouna was later deposed in the fourth military coup by Colonel Maaouya Ould Ahmed Taya on December 12, 1984 who ruled Mauritania as a multiparty general until April 18, 1992.  To transition from military power to civilian, in 1991 Col. Maaouya  introduced for the first time a milti-party system in Mauritania and held elections in 1992.  During that election, Col. Maaouya ran and won as a civilian candidate of the Democratic and Socialist Republican Party (DSRP).  He was also reelected in the 1997 presidential elections.

His regime ended by a fifth military coup in Mauritania on August 3, 2005 led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamen Vall.  The latter, as the chairman of the Millitary Council for Justice and Democracy, headed the state until April 19, 2007.  Ely condemned the previous regime for being totalitarian and promised to put the leadership of Muaritania in the hands of civilians through democratic elections.  He never took the title of president because he believed that a president is only legitimized by elections.  As an interim government, it prepared the presidential elections that brought President Sidi Ould Cheikh to power on on April 19, 2007.  President Sidi was a civilian and the sixth victim of the Mauritanian military coup ritual on August 6, 2008 by General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz.

Mauritania is bordered by Senegal on the southwest, Western Sahara on the northwest, Algeria on the Northeast, Mali on the east and South east and the Atlantic Ocean.   Its full name is the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and its capital is Nouakchott.  Arabic and French are among its major languages.    One of its main exports is fish, but it is threatened by over fishing.

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