Murphy's Law: August 8, 2005

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The August 3rd coup that ousted Mauritanian President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Tayas was a consequence of very complex Mauritanian tribal politics. There are two major ethnic groups in the country, Arabo-Mauritanians (sometimes termed White Mauritanians), in the north, and Afro-Mauritanians, in the south. Mauritanians are nearly all Moslem, ranging from secular to conservative. Afro-Mauritanians have very little influence in the country. 

Although the coup was initially reported as a possible Islamist response to Tayas pro-Western policies, both Tayas and Col. Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, who replaced him, are more or less secular Arabo-Mauritanians. The two men had formerly been close collaborators, and Vall had played a key role in the 1984 coup that brought Tayas to power. In return, in 1987, Tayas made Vall Director of National Security. Vall still held this post when the 17-member Council for Justice and Democracy ousted Tayas and named Vall president.

The roots of the coup seem to be tied up in tribal politics. There are 36 White Arabo-Mauritanian tribes. About a dozen of these are traditionally warrior peoples, and have high status in the informal caste system among the tribes. Tayas came from the relatively small Samossad tribe, traditionally merchants and traders rather than warriors. Vall is tied to one of the principal warrior clans, who, not incidentally, tend to be very over-represented in the countrys armed forces. Apparently in recent years there has been rising resentment among the warrior tribes over the distribution of booty in the country, as Tayas was seen as increasingly favoring his own clan.

Tayas, who was attending the funeral of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia at the time, has been offered asylum in Niger, from which he had declared that he remains President and intends to return to his country. In a surprising development, the coup has been widely condemned in the Arab press (except by the Palestinians, because of Tayas pro-Israel policies), and by the African Union collectively, and many African national leaders, despite the fact that several of the latter owe their positions to precisely the same process. 


Meanwhile, France has placed its forces in Senegal, Chad, and Gabon (in each of which there is a small brigade-type task force) on alert for possible NEO (Non-combatant Evacuation Operation), and action in which the French are likely to be supported by the U.S.

 


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