A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Again, Mauritania Gets No Respect: President is Unperson of Khartoum Summit

Yesterday, Presidents Husni Mubarak of Egypt, Leader of the Revolution Qadhafi of Libya, and President Muhammad Ould ‘Abd al-‘Aziz of Mauritania, met in Khartoum with President ‘Umar al-Bashir of Sudan and his First Vice President (for now), Salva Kiir of southern Sudan, which will vote January 9 on whether to secede. They all promised to respect the results. (We'll see.)

But two key Egyptian papers' differing coverage struck me as interesting. Al-Ahram, government mouthpiece but also the paper of record, mentioned them all and shows them all (link is in Arabic):

Salva Kiir is the one wearing the cool hat.

But Al-Masry al-Youm, an independent and usually a better paper for actual news, reports a four-way summit as if it's between Mubarak, Qadhafi, Bashir, and Salva Kiir. (Article is in Arabic.) Their English page does the same and adds insult to injury by cropping the photo to exclude not only the Mauritanian but Salva Kiir as well:

(Note I'm dependent on the websites for now; the hard copy might be different.) Oddly, both Arabic articles call it a four-way summit in their headlines, but from one you'd assume they mean the four Presidents, and from the other three Presidents and a Vice President.

Now, General Ould ‘Abd al-‘Aziz is no hero of mine; he came to power in a coup and is no great democrat. But he's a fellow Arab head of state: why has he disappeared down the memory hole? I'm sure that a great many Egyptians are not even aware that Mauritania is an Arab country, and few think its leader ranks with Mubarak or Qadhafi. But to make him an unperson in the story? To ignore him completely?

I fear Mauritania, far from the experience of most eastern Arabs, is easily forgotten. Once my wife and I attended a reception for Arab military attaches. The Mauritanian attache was in a corner by himself, so we chatted him up. He was pleased we both knew where his country even was, though neither of us had been there. But clearly Mauritania gets no respect. (Except from Qadhafi, whose attentions are not always welcome.) Why the Mauritanian President was there is of course another question (I suspect Qadhafi is part of the answer), but even if he was a fifth wheel at the summit, at least acknowledge he was there.


alle said...

Nice post, and I agree. I also suspect, as you say, that Abdelaziz was there only because Qadhafi had hauled him in, for some reason best known to himself.

But there's actually a pretty good reason he *should* be there: Mauritania is the only other Sahelian Arab state except Sudan, and it also has a long history of problematic north-south/arab-african issues, similar to the Sudanese divide (less severe, but mostly because it's such a small country that you can't get a proper civil war going).

I'm sure that point was lost on all involved except Abdelaziz himself, but still.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Aziz is friendly with Qadhafi and Bashir. Bashir visited Nouakchott this year and Aziz was invited to Khartoum in kind. Qadhafi is one of Aziz's main patrons politically and financially.

I think your interpretation of the cut out is accurate though. In 2008 asked a high ranking Arab League official (and I mean really high ranking), who also happened to be Egyptian, what the League's position was regarding the Mauritanian coup and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about and this was months after the coup. It's probably just sloppiness.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Thanks for commenting. But your anecdote has me scratching my head: "a high ranking Arab League official (and I mean really high ranking), who also happened to be Egyptian," -- Who on earth could you possibly mean?

Maybe I'll email Amr Moussa and see if he has a clue.