Ex-Saddam supporter, now U.S. ally, is reelected in Mauritania
The president who has led this Saharan nation for the past 19 years, moving it from support of Saddam Hussein to close ties with Washington and Israel, won reelection, his government declared Saturday. The top challenger, who was backed by Islamic hard-liners, fled into hiding, claiming fraud.
This is Africa. Fraud is a given.
President Maaoya Sid Ahmed Ould Taya’s victory ensured that Mauritania — a nation dominated by its Arab population — will remain a rare ally in the region of both Israel and the United States. After all votes were tallied, the Interior Ministry declared Taya the first-round winner with 67 percent of Friday’s vote. The results must still be validated by the courts.
Only 67%? Old codger is learning how to stack the deck just enough.
His strongest competitor among five challengers, fundamentalist-backed Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, trailed with 19 percent, the Interior Ministry said. The country has never seen a peaceful and democratic transfer of power since independence from France in 1960. Taya himself seized control in a 1989 coup, overthrowing Haidalla, then a military dictator.
These two have a long history!
Haidalla, an Arab like Taya, went into hiding as soon as polls closed Friday, fearing detention. He was arrested on election eve, only to be released later. From hiding, Haidalla and other opposition figures denounced the election, and demanded a new one.
"It was unfair! We lost!"
Isolated as a supporter of Saddam in the Gulf War, Taya’s administration recognized the obvious shifted political alliances dramatically in the mid-1990s. In 1999, Mauritania became one of only three countries in the Arab League to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. That same year, Mauritania broke ties with Iraq, despite the common Baath Party membership of many Mauritania leaders and Saddam’s regime.
Perhaps Taya was tired of running a dirt-poor country and saw the light?
Taya’s government banned anti-U.S. rallies earlier in the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and blocked what it claimed were fundamentalist attempts to use mosques to recruit fighters against the Untied States. In Israel, Shalom Cohen, deputy director of the Middle East division at that country’s Foreign Ministry, congratulated Taya on his proclaimed victory, calling him a "visionary and a courageous leader." In the 22-nation Arab League, only Mauritania has kept full diplomatic relations with Israel during three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Bet that straightens some curly-toed slippers.
Posted by: Steve White 2003-11-10