Protests stun Mauritania


Hundreds of pro-reform protesters demonstrated in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott on Monday, demanding political and social reforms.

A youth movement called February 25 organized the demonstrations. The movement has been arranging sit-ins and protests using the social networking site Facebook since January 2011.

The campaign started off small with simple interaction between disgruntled young Mauritanians on Facebook, but in the past few months it has spread across the country.

The movement has publicized a 28-point list expressing grievances such as lack of representation, poverty and inequitable distribution of goods.

Members are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Moulay Ould Mohamed Laghdaf, and calling for a national coalition government made up of technocrats. They also want the Senate dismissed and the minimum wage increased to 73,000 Ouguiyas (around $269).

The group has, however, underlined that it does not seek to disrupt the “unity” or call for the resignation of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

In February, the government announced the launch of a program to distribute parcels of land to benefit some 110,000 poor people living in Nouakchott.

Prime Minister Laghdaf also said the government would try to aid the local economy by creating 1,700 jobs, increasing food production and creating a new infrastructure.

Monday’s protests came despite what some analysts saw as an emerging political dialogue, with the Interior Ministry calling on the youth movement to submit its demands and appoint a representative with whom the government can negotiate.

However the latest entries on the group’s Facebook page show the movement as saying there was no other option but to “descend onto the streets and demand the resignation of the government.”

The civilian government of Mauritania was overthrown on August 6, 2008, in a military coup d'état led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. In April 2009, General Aziz resigned from the military to run for president in the July elections, which he won.

About 20 percent of the 3.3 million Mauritanian population currently lives on less than $1.25 per day. The country is one of the worst hit by al-Qaeda activity in the Islamic Maghreb.

(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya can be reached at: [email protected])