Mauritania and the Arab Spring: An Interview with Ahmed Jedou

Copie de SAM_3735On January 8, 2013, Sharnoff’s Global Views interviewed Ahmed Jedou. Ahmed is a Mauritanian activist and blogger. Connect with him on Google+ and follow him on Twitter.

SGV: Tell us a bit about you background.

AJ: I am a Mauritanian activist, a February 25 militant, which is a youth movement founded to oppose the military regime in my country. I am also a contributor at GlobalVoicesOnline.org. I spread the word to promote democracy and to make readers aware of human rights issues in Mauritania. I disavow dictatorship, slavery and exploitation.

SGV: What inspired you to write and educate people about Mauritania?

AJ: I started writing about Mauritania in 2006 when I became aware that writing can help facilitate change. Part of this awareness was inspired by the blogging activities of young Egyptians in 2004, who made a stir after unveiling Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s regime. I was touched by their effort and decided to challenge Mauritania’s military regime that despise the people, pockets their fortunes and foments instability.

SGV: Mauritania barely receives media coverage in the United States. It is geographically in West Africa and is an Arab League member. What is the most pressing issue facing Mauritania today?

AJ: The most obvious challenge the country faces is the ongoing military rule since the 1978 infamous coup d’état. Because of the nature of this exclusive and parochial-minded rule, democracy has become an impossibility and corruption rampant. The military junta kept rejuvenating itself through coup d’etats since 1978. At many instances this was conducted in the most outrageous way of self-deception.

For instance, when the military junta staged a coup in 2005, they promised democracy. They brought in a man unknown to the political arena and backed him in a relatively fair election. When he turned out to be resistant they staged another military coup in  2008 and kicked him out. General Ould Abdel Aziz is Mauritania’s current president and has remained in power.

SGV: Describe General Ould Abdel Aziz’s rule and the demands of the Mauritanian people.

AJ: He is a perfect dictator. He does not recognize the other and repression is rampant. When Mauritanians took to the streets in February 25 protesting his regime and advocating for democracy, many were arrested including myself. When Afro-Mauritanians protested and demanded equality, they too met harsh resistance by the security forces. One demonstrator was shot dead and trade unionists, teachers, laborers and students protesting were also attacked.

Mauritania wants democracy, civil rule and social justice. Mauritanians share the overall demand of the Arab Spring: dignity, equality, democracy and justice. And the foremost challenge they face is the military regime, its racism and parochial way of looking at things, and its nepotism. In addition to this tribalism, ethnic animosity and poverty pose a challenge.

SGV: Speaking of ethnic animosity and racism, Mauritania became the last country to abolish slavery in 1981 however some claim this practice still exists. Can you address this sensitive issue?

AJ: Yes, Mauritania abolished slavery in November 1981 and criminalized it in August 2007, but these laws are still ineffective. Like most other laws in the country, they exist but are not applicable. The only time a slave-holder was punished by the law was in 2011 in the “Said and Yerg” case in which the court ruled that an enslaving family be fined and imprisoned. Elsewhere slaveholders continue to practice slavery. Some of them rape slave girls and the government does little to intervene.

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Slavery persists because the slave community is bound to their masters. No state programs exist to ameliorate the situation. I called for affirmative action in which programs will aid slavery-victims and save them from social dependency. Meanwhile the civil society should keep pressing the regime over implementing the law and institute an anti-slavery socioeconomic system.

SGV: When Mauritanian activist Yacoub Ould Dahoud set himself on fire in front of the presidential palace, why did this not trigger wide-scale protests like in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt?

AJ: Well, it triggered many and continuous protests and it was the onset of the February 25 movement. Protests and demonstration kept being organized but are always repressed by the regime. In 2012 the opposition organized massive rallies calling on the regime to step down. These activities continue to take place. One is scheduled on January 10.

SGV: Do you think that the lack of Internet and social media accessibility is a major reason Mauritanians have not staged massive protests?

AJ: That is part of problem, but, as I said, the struggle against the regime is continuous and ongoing. The country has witnessed huge rallies and demonstrations and that helped the opposition come together and develop a unified program.

SGV: Will Mauritania ultimately experience its own revolution?

AJ: Not exactly. The nation is on its way to revolution. We witness the early signs of revolution but it will be extremely difficult to do as long  as this regime is in place.

SGV: Do you believe that the majority of Mauritanians want change and reform and if so what role, if any, can the US play in helping promote democracy?

AJ: Most of Mauritanians call for change. However many did not make their decision to go down to help bring down the regime. But more and more get involved because of the activities of the revolutionary vanguard of activists and the opposition. As for the US, it should not support the regime in the same vulgar way the French do. The US should stop unfriendly and biased statements like the one its ambassador made, hoping that the opposition to Aziz would fail. For more on this issue, please read this story.

SGV: Are you optimistic about the future despite the serious challenges ahead?

AJ: I am. I saw many youths who believe in the values of democracy, justice and equality and who are ready to fight tyranny and build a modern free country.

SGV: Finally, what message would you like to share with the Mauritanian people and the American people?

AJ: I want Americans to know that Mauritanians exist and they aspire for freedom and justice. I hope that you sympathize with them and push your government not to support those who subjugate others. Also as a Muslim, I want to convey a message of peace. I hope that you don’t associate us with those terrorists who kill people. Their savagery does not represent Islam or Arabic culture which has contributed immensely to human civilization and progress.

SGV: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.