5 March 2014

Mauritania: Nouakchott Protest Turns Deadly

Nouakchott — A Mauritanian university student died Monday (March 3rd) as hundreds took to the streets of Nouakchott to protest the alleged desecration of the Qur'an.

The man was killed as police struggled to contain demonstrators, while several others were injured.

The violence began after four people said by witnesses to be "dressed in turbans" stormed a mosque in the Teyarett district of the capital. One of them "took four copies of the Qur'an, which he shredded before throwing them in the toilet", the local imam told AFP.

As the demonstration spread throughout the capital, shops and banks kept their curtains drawn.

Protests later erupted in Nouadhibou, Zouerate, Rosso, Kiffa, Timbedra and Boutilimit.

The violent nature of the demonstrations forced the president's guards to intervene to protect the head of state's residence.

In a statement relayed on national television, Communication Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham called for "calm and the return of the young demonstrators to their colleges and workplaces".

Ould Maham added that authorities would "take full responsibility for guaranteeing security and dealing with this matter firmly and sincerely".

In his turn, Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Ould Neini said, "Muslims must not act without first being aware of the religious view regarding their actions."

Meanwhile, politicians from all parties denounced the act.

Mauritania's ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) on Monday evening issued a statement, saying, "This is an odious crime which we fully condemn, just as we condemn those who are exploiting it."

For its part, the main opposition party, the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD), released a statement vigorously deploring "this ignoble act, which exceeds all limits... and calling for unity in the face of the fierce and repeated attacks" on the Qur'an.

Analysts had similar views. Cheikh Tijane Dia, editor-in-chief at Le Rénovateur, said Mauritanians must first "consider the situation regarding individual, collective and public responsibility. When one person or a group profanes the Islamic faith, this shocks the collective consciousness of Muslims."

However, he noted that "religion also forbids any recourse to violence which could... harm society".

The response on the streets of Mauritania was unanimous.

Ahmed Ould Sidi, a Nouakchott University student, said: "These lost souls have crossed red lines. Mauritanians are known for their commitment to Islam... It is unthinkable that the Qur'an or any other symbol of Islam should be attacked on our soil."

There were also numerous reactions on Facebook.

"I don't believe it could be Christians because the Christian faith does not accept this kind of behavior," said Mohamed Ould Mein.

Ahmed Mohamed Moustapha asked: "Who is playing with the main cement that binds together the peace, security and cohesion of Mauritanians?"

On Tuesday, the situation became peaceful again and security troops returned to their barracks.

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