Coup d’etat in Mauritania

Hundreds have taken to the streets of Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott, shouting and honking car horns in celebration after the army announced it had seized power and ousted long-ruling President Moawiya Ould Tayeh. Convoys of vehicles with people hanging out the sides shouting “Praise Be to God” and making victory signs paraded down one of Nouakchott’s main avenues. (Reuters, Aug. 3)

A communique signed by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy said the coup is aimed at “putting an end to the regime’s despotic practices.” The statement, relased by official state media, said the council will rule Mauritania for a transitional period not exceeding two years “during which real democratic institutions would be created.” The president was out of the country for the funeral of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd. A plane carrying him back home landed in Niger’s capital, Niamey, where he was informed that he had been removed from power. (UPI)

The African Union has condemned the coup, as has the US. (Reuters, AP) UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a statement saying he is “deeply troubled” by the coup report. (UPI) But Ould Sid’Hamed Taya had long faced growing opposition from Islamists unhappy with his closeness to Israel, black ethnicities in the south who accuse him of favoring the Arab elite, and generally by advocates for democracy and human rights. See our last post on Mauritania.

  1. Junta officials: Mauritanian ties with Israel to remain intact
    Junta officials: Mauritanian ties with Israel to remain intact
    By News Agencies
    Haaretz, Aug. 6

    Unnamed officials close to the junta which took power in a bloodless coup in Mauritania on Wednesday said Friday that Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, the country’s new strongman, met the Israeli ambassador in the capital of Nouakchott and assured him diplomatic relations between the two nations would not change.

    Mauritania opened full opened full diplomatic relations with Israel six years ago, becoming one of only three Arab League nations to do so.

    Top Mauritanian opposition politicians urged coup leaders on Friday to cut ties with Israel, voicing long-standing anger among the country’s Arabs at the ousted president’s friendly relations with the Jewish state.

    Army officers who toppled president Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya in a bloodless coup on Wednesday have not made any public pronouncements on foreign policy in Mauritania.

    But opposition leaders want the new rulers to reverse Taya’s amicable policy towards Israel, one of a host of popular grievances from corruption to repression of Islamic groups that fuelled discontent with his 21-year rule.

    “Mauritanians don’t want diplomatic relations with Israel,” said Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, president of the Popular Progressive Alliance, one of the biggest opposition parties.

    “In fact, we should break them off,” he told Reuters.

    The coup drew a rapturous welcome from many in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, but beyond a commitment to rule for a maximum of two years the military officers behind the putsch have given no details of their plans.

    “Our party has always wanted to break off diplomatic relations with Israel, and to only normalise relations if there is a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Mohamed Ould Maouloud, president of the Union of Progressive Forces, one of the other main opposition groups.

    Taya, initially an ally of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, moved his country closer to Israel and the United States throughout the 1990s, a move many Mauritanians believe was aimed mainly at winning Washington’s favour.

    Students threw stones and burned tyres in May to protest at the visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to Mauritania, which established full ties with Israel in 1999. Egypt and Jordan are the other Arab League states with diplomat relations with Israel.

    Regional analysts said any gesture to scale back ties with Israel would serve to boost the new leadership’s popularity at home, but they would be wary of any action that would further endanger their relationship with the United States.

    Washington has demanded that Taya be restored to power, joining the African Union, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former colonial power France in condemning the coup.

    “(Taya’s) foreign policy was so much dictated by the advantages from good relations with Washington,” said Thalia Griffiths, of African Energy, an industry publication. “They will see that was working and want to keep it that way.”

    Sarah Meyers, senior analyst at Control Risks Group, a London-based business risk consultancy, said she saw no big policy change on Israel.

    “That’s not to say that they couldn’t lower the profile of their relations with Israel, but I don’t at this point see them severing ties,” she said.

    Straddling black and Arab Africa, Mauritania is one of various countries in the Sahel region south of the Sahara where the U.S. trains troops to boost their capacity to tackle militants that Washington fears may try to operate in the area.

    Training for Mauritanian troops has finished for this year, but the U.S. military said it was reviewing the scheme.

    “Until things stabilise, until we get an invitation from the government, whoever that may be, we are not going to be conducting any more military-to-military training,” said Major Holly Silkman, a U.S. European Command spokeswoman.

  2. Oil companies also reassured
    Note that this story from the Financial Times doesn’t mention the two industry majors in Mauritania until the very end.

    Oil companies positive about Mauritania
    By Kate Mackenzie in London
    Published: August 5 2005 03:00

    Oil companies with exploration and production rights in Mauritania are remaining positive about prospects there after a key resources company said it had been reassured of support from the military coup leaders who seized power on Wednesday.

    Woodside, the Australian resources group that has a 47 per cent stake in the offshore Chinguetti oil field, which is expected to begin outputting 75,000 barrels per day from next year, said company representatives in Nouakchott had made contact with leaders from the Military Council for Justice and Democracy.

    “We have their assurances that we can operate safely,” he said. “For us it is business as usual. We don’t get involved in politics in the country we operate in.”

    Hardman Resources, an Australian company, was the first company to do exploratory work in Mauritania and is the second-biggest shareholder in the Chin-guetti project with 19 per cent. Like the smaller stake-holders in the project, which include BG Group, Premier and ROC Oil, Hardman has no staff in Mauritania. A spokesman for Hardman said discussions with the new regime were being left to the operator, Woodside.

    Woodside shares lost 2.4 per cent on news of the coup but regained confidence to close 0.7 per cent down yesterday. But shares in Dana Petroleum, a FTSE250 company that has made gas discoveries in Mauritania, fell 17.5p to 716p.

    Adam Sieminski, chief energy analyst at Deutsche Bank, said the coup could affect oil production, but that offshore production would be less vulnerable to the type of upheaval that had affected onshore operations in countries such as Nigeria.

    “For the most part, this new oil that’s likely to come [from Mauritania] is offshore, so it’s probably not subject to local incidents, which often disrupt the Nigerian oil production.”

    Two European companies have recently secured onshore exploration rights in Mauritania: Repsol, the Spanish oil company, and Total of France.

  3. But African Union suspends Mauritania

    AU Suspends Mauritania

    Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique

    August 5, 2005
    Addis Ababa

    The African Union (AU)’s Peace and Security Council has decided to suspend Mauritania from all the organization’s activities because of the Tuesday’s military coup d’etat, until constitutional order is restored.

    The dicision was taken during a meeting of the council on Wednesday, after a plenary session of the Assembly of the AU, and is in line with the Lome Declaration on Unconstitutional Changes of Government, adopted in 2000. The Council condemns the coup and demands the rstoration of constitutional order.

    The council also dispatched a ministerial delegation to Mauritania to reiterate the AU position to the military and to inform them of the modalities to restore constitutionality in the country.

    This organism comended the international community for condemning this military action, and urged those countries to support all eforts to restore order and constitutionality in Mauritania.

  4. New boss was close to Taya
    A rather awkward translation from, but it makes the point: the new boss is from the same political class as the old boss…

    Military council in Mauritania was close to the toppled president
    Mauritania, 8/6/2005

    The military council for “Adalah Wal Demoqrateyah” ( Justice and democracy) in Mauritania, which is led by Col. Weld Muhammad Faal, announced it will assume governance of the country for a period of two years.

    Since a long time, Faal has been considered one of the close allies to the toppled president. He took part in the coupe which brought the toppled president al-Taye to power in Mauritanian in 1984, and had the post of the security leader in Mauritania for 20 years.

    The group also include the commander of al-Taye guard. A mater which proves that the peaceful coupe came from inside of the circle that was close to the president, contrary to earlier coupe attempts.

    Faal received a message from the Moroccan King Muhammad VI through his envoy Muhammad Yassin al-Mansouri who on Friday. Well-informed sources said that Weld al-Taye might have sought political asylum in Morocco, which is one of the few states in the region which did not comment on the coupe.

    Worthy mentioning that the UN, France, USA and Tunisia deplored the coupe while the African Union suspended Mauritania’s membership and called for returning Weld al-Taye back to authority.

    See also BBC‘s profile of Col. Vall