Mauritania After the Elections: Predicting U.S. Policy

In the year since a military coup usurped Mauritania’s first democratically elected government, the Mauritanian opposition has maintained its momentum in large part due to a perception of solidarity from the U.S., writes Kal at the Moor Next Door Blog. This perception was fed by American endorsement of a “return to constitutional order” after the coup, as well as the rejection of coup leader and interim government president General Ould Abdel Aziz.

Since Aziz won the presidential election on July 18, Mauritanians are closely watching how American policy toward Mauritania will take shape.  Mauritania was internationally isolated after the 2008 coup, which led Aziz to cut diplomatic ties with Israel in exchange for support from Libya and Iran, Kal argues.  This is thus a time of great potential in the U.S.-Mauritanian relationship, but given Aziz’s past record, it is uncertain how the U.S. will approach him.

Mauritania’s self-motivated transition from dictatorship to democracy in 2005–then a coup last year–gives the U.S. reason to carefully watch the country, writes Kal.  Some Mauritanians fear that Aziz (who displays dictatorial tendencies) may use the election to entrench his position of power and undermine the opposition.  In a clear attempt to attract Western attention to the president-elect, those Mauritanians displeased with the election have publicly protested the results with signs in English and Arabic reading “where is my vote?”

The Obama administration has multiple reasons for reaching out to Mauritania.  The most urgent are based on democracy promotion and counter-terrorism, writes Kal.  First, the American rejection of the coup and Aziz seriously empowered the opposition candidates who ran against him.  If the perception of American solidarity disappears, the opposition–and thus Mauritania’s fledgling political pluralism–could dissolve.  Secondly, Mauritania is potentially vulnerable to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.  Kal questions whether Aziz demonstrates the cool rationality needed to deal with such a threat.

It seems that the administration is aware of political and security risks in Mauritania. A recent POMED report reveals that President Obama‘s budget increases aid to Mauritania in two categories: democratic governance and security.  Kal recommends that the Obama administration continue President Bush‘s approach to Mauritania, focusing sharply on Aziz, human rights and perhaps reversing Mauritania’s Israel policy.  Kal emphasizes that the good will the U.S. garnered in 2008 among Mauritanians could be lost if it discontinues this prior policy and embraces the unknown that lies ahead in the Aziz administration.