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Mauritania Politics

State and politics

Mauritania has been governed by military regimes since independence in 1960. Also Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took power in a coup in 2008 and was president until 2019, and his successor Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (born 1956) has a background in the armed forces. The country of Mauritania is still wrestling with a lack of democracy. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how MR can stand for Mauritania.

Political System of Mauritania

GOVERNMENT

The 1991 Constitution, with the addition of 2006, states that Mauritania should be an Islamic republic with multi-party systems. The executive is exercised by a president, who is elected for five years in direct elections and can be re-elected. The President appoints the Prime Minister and appoints the members of the government on his proposal. All heads of state since independence have been men.

The legislative power is exercised by a parliament whose 157 members are elected directly for five years. 20 seats are reserved for women and after the 2018 election, 31 (20 per cent) of the members were women, which was a lower proportion than five years earlier. The indirectly elected House of Commons, the Senate, was abolished by a 2017 referendum.

Policy

Following a coup in 1978 against Mokhtar Ould Daddah (1924–2003), who ruled the country from independence in 1960, the country has been dominated by the military, although the ministries have largely been civilians. After several years of internal contradictions and ethnic conflict as well as under the influence of democracy movements in much of Africa, a democratic constitution was adopted by referendum in 1991. However, no real democracy has gained its foothold in Mauritania, where power is concentrated to an ethnic minority of Arab-bred Moors. Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya (born 1941) held the presidential power in 1984-2005 and during his time in power increased the concentration of power and the ethnic conflicts in the country. The entire 00's was characterized by great political turbulence, with several military coups and regime changes.

Taya was deposed in a military coup in 2005 and succeeded the coup leader and police chief Ely Ould Mohamed Vall (1953–2017). Previous coup attempts in 2003 and 2004 had resulted in the arrest of a large number of political opponents to Taya. The new regime took certain initiatives in a democratic direction, including the presidential elections in 2006 under fairly democratic forms and political prisoners being released, but after a conflict erupted over representation in the new government, political disorder grew. In 2008, deposed General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz took power through a coup. Subsequently, Abdel Aziz formed the new political party Union pour la republic (UPR). During Abdel Aziz's time in power, presidential elections were held in 2009 and 2014 and elections to parliament in 2013 and 2018. Both the 2013 parliamentary elections, which resulted in a grand victory for the UPR, and the 2014 presidential elections, when Abdel Aziz was re-elected without serious opponents, were boycotted by the opposition.

The opposition also boycotted the referendum held in 2017 and by which the Senate was abolished. Abdel Aziz's opponents expressed fears that the president would try to extend his time in power. However, he did not stand in the 2019 presidential election. UPR instead launched Defense Minister Mohamed Ould Cheikh el Ghazouani as its candidate; he won with 52 percent of the vote. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, a record number of parties lined up, but UPR again gained a clear majority in the National Assembly.

The most serious political issue in Mauritania is the treatment of the ruling Moorish population (Beydans) by the black ethnic groups in the south. It has caused major refugee problems and border conflicts with Senegal. Mauritania has often had strained relations with other Arab countries, mainly because of its US-friendly policy and the 1999 decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel; however, these were broken again in 2010. Mauritania resigned in 2000 from the West African cooperation organization ECOWAS in protest of, among other things, the plans for coordination of the defense forces and the abolition of border controls between the member states. Since the end of the 1990s, radical Islamist terrorist groups, mainly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have been a major problem in Mauritania as well as in several neighboring countries.

Judiciary

The legal system in Mauritania is based on French law. family law is based on Islamic law. The death penalty still remains in the legislation but is de facto abolished in 1987.

Human Rights

Mauritania is a poor and ethnically divided country. The Arab Berber people, the Moors, are the largest group of people, and of them the so-called White Moors, Beydane, possess most of the political and economic resources in the country.

Poverty and institutionalized discrimination are widespread for the black African people in the southern parts of the country, and during the 2000s, the country's long tradition of slavery still extends to a large extent. Mauritania has a higher proportion of people living in slavery than any other country, and lack of education and information on rights facilitates continued exploitation. The slaveholders fortify their power partly by maintaining the ignorance of the vulnerable, and partly by isolating them as much as possible from the remaining population.

The deficiencies in respect for human rights are clear. Corruption is widespread, the right of association is limited and arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment are common. In the country's prisons, conditions are reported to be extremely poor and many interns are subjected to torture and sexual abuse.

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression has steadily improved during the 2010s. Freedom is relatively high, but there is a self-censorship on sensitive issues such as the military, slavery, corruption and Sharia. It happens that journalists are exposed to threats and violence when they write about such things. In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2015, the country is ranked 55 out of 180 countries surveyed.

Girls and women are very vulnerable in Mauritania, and they are exposed to several types of violations with very little chance of getting help from Sharia-controlled patriarchal society. The abuses include forced marriage from a very young age, human trafficking for sexual purposes, rape both inside and outside of marriage, genital mutilation and a traditional use of forced feeding, a phenomenon that is almost unique to the country. Forced feeding, which occurs mainly in rural areas, means that the girls are taken out of the school system at the age of four to be forced into the marriage in order to make them attractive in the marriage market.

It is estimated that 19 percent of girls are married before the age of 15 and girls from the age of nine risk being sold abroad as nannies. The latter category, after puberty, is often missed by the street and a life of prostitution.

Heads of State

Presidents

1960-78 Mokhtar Ould Daddah
1978-79 Mustapha Ould Mohamed Salek
1979-80 Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Ahmed Louly
1980-84 Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla
1984-2005 Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya
2005-2007 Ely Ould Mohamed Vall
2007-08 Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdellahi
2008-19 Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
2019- Mohamed Ould Ghazouani
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