Ould Taya’s rule (1984–2005)
In December 1984, Haidallah was deposed by Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya, who, while retaining tight military control, relaxed the political climate.
Ould Taya moderated Mauritania’s previous pro-Algerian stance, and re-established ties with Morocco during the late 1980s. He deepened these ties during the late 1990s and early 2000s as part of Mauritania’s drive to attract support from Western states and Western-aligned Arab states.
Mauritania has not rescinded its recognition of Polisario’s Western Saharan exile government, and remains on good terms with Algeria. Its position on the Western Sahara conflict is, since the 1980s, one of strict neutrality.
Ordinance 83.127, enacted 5 June 1983 started the process of nationalization of all land not clearly the property of a documented owner, thus abolishing the traditional system of land tenure.
Potential nationalization was based on the concept of “dead land”, i.e., property which has not been developed or on which obvious development cannot be seen. A practical effect was government seizure of traditional communal grazing lands.
Political parties, illegal during the military period, were legalized again in 1991. By April 1992, as civilian rule returned, 16 major political parties had been recognized; 12 major political parties were active in 2004.
The Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social (PRDS), formerly led by President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya, dominated Mauritanian politics after the country’s first multi-party elections in April 1992, following the approval by referendum of the current constitution in July 1991.
President Taya won elections in 1992 and 1997. Most opposition parties boycotted the first legislative election in 1992. For nearly a decade the parliament was dominated by the PRDS.
The opposition participated in municipal elections in January–February 1994, and in subsequent Senate elections – most recently in April 2004 – and gained representation at the local level, as well as three seats in the Senate.
This period was marked by extensive ethnic violence and human rights abuses. Between 1990 and 1991, a campaign of particularly extreme violence took place against a background of Arabization, interference with blacks’ association rights, expropriation and expatriation.
In October 1987, the government allegedly uncovered a tentative coup d’état by a group of black army officers, backed, according to the authorities, by Senegal.
Fifty-one officers were arrested and subjected to interrogation and torture. Heightened ethnic tensions were the catalyst for the Mauritania–Senegal Border War, which started as a result of a conflict in Diawara between Moorish Mauritanian herders and Senegalese farmers over grazing rights. On 9 April 1989, Mauritanian guards killed two Senegalese.
Following the incident, several riots erupted in Bakel, Dakar and other towns in Senegal, directed against the mainly Arabized Mauritanians who dominated the local retail business.
The rioting, added to already existing tensions, led to a campaign within the country of terror against black Mauritanians, who are often seen as ‘Senegalese’ by Bidha’an, regardless of their nationality.
As low scale conflict with Senegal continued into 1990/91, the Mauritanian government engaged in or encouraged acts of violence and seizures of property directed against the Halpularen ethnic group.
The tension culminated in an international airlift agreed to by Senegal and Mauritania under international pressure to prevent further violence. The Mauritanian Government expelled tens of thousands of black Mauritanians.
Most of these so-called ‘Senegalese’ had no ties to Senegal, and many have been repatriated from Senegal and Mali after 2007. The exact number of expulsions is not known but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that, as of June 1991, 52,995 Mauritanian refugees were living in Senegal and at least 13,000 in Mali.
From November 1990 to February 1991, between 200 and 600 (depending on the sources) Fula and Soninke soldiers and/or political prisoners were executed or tortured to death by Mauritanian government forces.
They were among 3,000 to 5,000 blacks predominantly soldiers and civil servants arrested between October 1990 and mid-January 1991. Some Mauritanian exiles believe that the number was as high as 5,000 on the basis of alleged involvement in an attempt to overthrow the government.
The government initiated a military investigation but never released the results. In order to guarantee immunity for those responsible and to block any attempts at accountability for past abuses, the Parliament declared an amnesty in June 1993 covering all crimes committed by the armed forces, security forces as well as civilians, between April 1989 and April 1992.
The government offered compensation to families of victims, which a few accepted in lieu of settlement. Despite this amnesty, some Mauritanians have denounced the involvement of the government in the arrests and killings.
In the late 1980s, Ould Taya had established close co-operation with Iraq, and pursued a strongly Arab nationalist line. Mauritania grew increasingly isolated internationally, and tensions with Western countries grew dramatically after it took a pro-Iraqi position during the 1991 Gulf War.
During the mid-to late 1990s, Mauritania shifted its foreign policy to one of increased co-operation with the US and Europe. It was rewarded with diplomatic normalization and aid projects.
On 28 October 1999, Mauritania joined Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan as the only members of the Arab League to officially recognize Israel. Ould Taya also started co-operating with the United States in anti-terrorism activities, a policy which was criticized by some human rights organizations.
A group of current and former Army officers launched a violent and unsuccessful coup attempt on 8 June 2003. The leaders of the attempted coup escaped from the country, but some of them were caught, later on.
Mauritania’s presidential election, its third since adopting the democratic process in 1992, took place on 7 November 2003. Six candidates, including Mauritania’s first female and first Haratine (descended from former slaves) candidates, represented a wide variety of political goals and backgrounds.
Incumbent President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya won reelection with 67.02% of the popular vote, according to the official figures, with Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla finishing second.
August 2005 military coup
On 3 August 2005, a military coup led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall ended Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya’s twenty-one years of rule. Taking advantage of Taya’s attendance at the funeral of Saudi King Fahd, the military, including members of the presidential guard, seized control of key points in the capital Nouakchott.
The coup proceeded without loss of life. Calling them-selves the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, the officers released the following statement:
“The national armed forces and security forces have unanimously decided to put a definitive end to the oppressive activities of the defunct authority, which our people have suffered from during the past years.”
The Military Council later issued another statement naming Colonel Vall as president and director of the national police force, the Surete Nationale.
Vall, once regarded as a firm ally of the now-ousted president, had aided Taya in the coup that had originally brought him to power, and had later served as his security chief. Sixteen other officers were listed as members of the Council.
Though cautiously watched by the international community, the coup came to be generally accepted, with the military junta organizing elections within a promised two-year timeline.
In a referendum on 26 June 2006, Mauritanians overwhelmingly (97%) approved a new constitution which limited the duration of a president’s stay in office. The leader of the junta, Col.
Vall, promised to abide by the referendum and relinquish power peacefully. Mauritania’s establishment of relations with Israel – it is one of only three Arab states to recognize Israel – was maintained by the new regime, despite widespread criticism from the opposition.
They considered that position as a legacy of the Taya regime’s attempts to curry favor with the West.
Parliamentary and municipal elections in Mauritania took place on 19 November and 3 December 2006.
2007 presidential elections
Mauritania’s first fully democratic presidential elections took place on 11 March 2007. The elections resulted into the final transfer from military to civilian rule following the military coup in 2005.
This was the first time since Mauritania gained independence in 1960 that it elected a president in a multi-candidate election.
The elections were won in a second round of voting by Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, with Ahmed Ould Daddah a close second.
2008 Mauritanian coup d’état
On 6 August 2008, the head of the presidential guards took over the president’s palace in Nouakchott, a day after 48 lawmakers from the ruling party resigned in protest of President Abdallahi’s policies.
The army surrounded key government facilities, including the state television building, after the president fired senior officers, one of them the head of the presidential guards.
The President, Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghef, and Mohamed Ould R’zeizim, Minister of Internal Affairs, were arrested.
The coup was co-ordinated by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, former chief of staff of the Mauritanian Army and head of the presidential guard, who had recently been fired.
Mauritania’s presidential spokesman, Abdoulaye Mamadouba, said the President, Prime Minister, and Interior Minister had been arrested by renegade Senior Mauritanian army officers and they were being held under house arrest at the presidential palace in the capital.
In the apparently successful and bloodless coup, Abdallahi’s daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, said: “The security agents of the BASEP (Presidential Security Battalion) came to our home and took away my father.”
The coup plotters all dismissed in a presidential decree shortly beforehand, included Abdel Aziz, General Muhammad Ould Al-Ghazwani, General Philippe Swikri, and Brigadier General (Aqid) Ahmad Ould Bakri.
After the coup
A Mauritanian lawmaker, Mohammed Al Mukhtar, claimed that many of the country’s people supported the takeover of a government that had become “an authoritarian regime” under a president who had “marginalized the majority in parliament.”
The coup was also backed by Abdallahi’s rival in the 2007 election, Ahmed Ould Daddah. However, Abdel Aziz’s regime was isolated internationally, and became subject to diplomatic sanctions and the cancellation of some aid projects.
It found few supporters (among them Morocco, Libya and Iran), while Algeria, the United States, France and other European countries criticized the coup, and continued to refer to Abdallahi as the legitimate president of Mauritania.
Domestically, a group of parties coalesced around Abdallahi to continue protesting the coup, which caused the junta to ban demonstrations and crack down on opposition activists.
International and internal pressure eventually forced the release of Abdallahi, who was instead placed under house arrest in his home village. The new government broke off relations with Israel.
In March 2010, Mauritania’s female foreign minister Mint Hamdi Ould Mouknass announced that Mauritania had cut ties with Israel in a “complete and definitive way.”
After the coup, Abdel Aziz insisted on holding new presidential elections to replace Abdallahi, but was forced to reschedule them due to internal and international opposition.
During the spring of 2009, the junta negotiated an understanding with some opposition figures and international parties. As a result, Abdallahi formally resigned under protest, as it became clear that some opposition forces had defected from him and most international players, notably including France and Algeria, now aligned with Abdel Aziz. The United States continued to criticize the coup, but did not actively oppose the elections.
Abdallahi’s resignation allowed the election of Abdel Aziz as civilian president, on 18 July, by a 52% majority. Many of Abdallahi’s former supporters criticized this as a political ploy and refused to recognize the results.
They argued that the election had been falsified due to junta control, and complained that the international community had let down the opposition. Despite complaints, the elections were almost unanimously accepted by Western, Arab and African countries, which lifted sanctions and resumed relations with Mauritania.
By late summer, Abdel Aziz appeared to have secured his position and to have gained widespread international and internal support. Some figures, such as Senate chairman Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, continued to refuse the new order and call for Abdel Aziz’s resignation.
In February 2011, the waves of the Arab Spring spread to Mauritania, where thousands of people took to the streets of the capital.
In November 2014, Mauritania was invited as a non-member guest nation to the G20 summit in Brisbane.