Nouakchott — Mauritania's economic and cultural ties with Mali run deep, but the threat of war in the neighbouring nation has everyone on edge.
To address their shared challenges and concerns, Mauritanian party leaders, diplomats, journalists and academics met with representatives of Mali's National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in Nouakchott on December 15th for a unique symposium.
"Presentations focused on the importance of the historical ties between Mauritanians and Azawadis," Adel Mohamed Mahmoud, a judge and MNLA member from the northern Mali city of Arawan, said about the event organised by the Association of Maghreb Cultural Communications.
"The current situation in the region of Azawad has serious repercussions on the security and stability of Mauritania," he said. Mahmoud added, "The space, which covers the two regions, has not witnessed religious violence in the past and the population was never subjected to religion by force."
For his part, Dr.Yahya Ould Barra noted that "Islam spread in both regions via the same religious school of law."
"The Islam that united Mauritania and northern Mali was characterised by a moderate and centrist approach, an approach incompatible with extremism and fanaticism," he added. "The clerics who spread Islam did not find any difficulty in making people embrace this religion because of its moderation and centrism."
Dr. Abdul Salam Ould Horma also addressed the challenges facing the region. His presentation was followed by comments from Ahmed Ould Al Wafi, president of the Forum of Thought and Democratic Dialogue. Participants agreed on the need to provide assistance to the civilian population of northern Mali.
"We demand from this podium that Azawad obtain its legitimate right to development and education, demands we long asked for during our struggle," said Nina Walet Ntalo, third in command in the MNLA.
Mohamed Abdallah Ould Omar, a young researcher attending the seminar, told Magharebia: "The discussions disclosed the extent of the concerns of the Mauritanian elite with regard to the repercussions of the looming war in northern Mali."
"However, these concerns do not mean that former ministers, diplomats and leaders of political parties stand against cleansing Azawad of terrorists," he added. "They are demanding instead that the war be systematic and rational in order to spare the population of both regions extreme duress."
Ould Omar demanded that any military action in northern Mali "take into account negative effects and their potential impact on humanity in the future".