Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mauritanian President Ready for Work

Nouakchott — Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz returned to Nouakchott, ready to address the potential military conflict in Mali and political conflict at home.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is now back home, after spending some 40 days in France recovering from a gunshot injury.

During his absence, political tensions escalated and opponents spoke of a "power vacuum" and a looming transition. But when he returned to Nouakchott on Saturday (November 24th), thousands of well-wishers lined the three kilometres of road between the Nouakchott airport and the presidential palace to show their support.

"His return stresses the need to finalise a Mauritanian decision about the war on terror in northern Mali and establish how it will contribute to the effort," political analyst Mohamed Ould al-Aqel said.

But when asked about what role Mauritania would play, Abdel Aziz told RFI on Saturday, "The problem is now at the hands of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)."

"Right now, we're closely following up on developments and are waiting," Abdel Aziz said.

"I don't recommend war before all other means have been exhausted," he said.

For many citizens, the presence of the president for the first time in more than a month comes as a relief.

"The president's return is an opportunity to remove the month-long ambiguity and vacuum, without knowing where Mauritania is headed," government employee Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Lemrabott told Magharebia.

"We prefer stability over changes with uncalculated consequences to avoid a case similar to that of our neighbouring Mali, which is still stumbling in its own crisis," he said.

Civil society activist Nebghouha Mint al-Salek also welcomed the president's return.

"Regardless of my position on the president's policies and his government's administration, I'm now relieved about his return at this tough and critical juncture. We're on the brink of war and our security is threatened," she said.

"Citizens primarily look for security and stability and then think about livelihoods, because when the country suffers from divisions and security shocks, it will witness famine, and crime and poverty will spread," she said.

Even the opposition seems to be modulating its earlier harsh tone.

The Democratic Opposition Coordination (COD) Chairman Hanena Saleh Ould said in a press conference on Sunday, "The present regime has no political vision, and democracy is being allowed to drift off course."

The COD had previously spoken of a "vacuum at the top" and demanded "the introduction of inclusive dialogue to prepare for transition".

"This is a sincere, genuine illustration of the Mauritanian people's solidarity and support for the President of the Republic. This shows that all the talk being spread about a lack of authority and the inability to run the country is indeed false," Union for the Republic Party (UPR) former vice president Mohamed Yahya said.

According to journalist Imam Cheikh Ould Ely, the former director of the national television service, the president's return ends the "hysterical campaign of misinformation in which the Mauritanian people have been caught up for weeks".

"It also restores confidence to an entire nation, setting out the path to future victories, not necessarily by one camp against another, but victories we shall have the pleasure and pride of savouring together, regardless of our own loyalties: victories in strengthening democracy, human rights, combating disease, ignorance, poverty... and creating national unity," Ould Ely said.

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