Black Mauritanians complain about complete ‘Arabisation’

April 24, 2010

Middle East Online

Mauritanian majority accuses foes of fomenting ethnic tension after university clashes.

NOUAKCHOTT – Mauritania’s ruling Coalition of Parties of the Majority (CPM) has accused the opposition of whipping up ethnic tension after violent clashes between Moor and non-Moorish students.

CPM president Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed on Sunday night told journalists that he condemned “a desperate attempt by some opposition parties who falsely interpret government declarations, to revive matters of ethnic allegiance.”

“The opposition is waging a smear campaign holding that Mauritania is in a state of continual crisis. The real objective is to undermine the big projects currently on hand and those on the drawing board,” Mahmoud Ould Mohamed added.

The main party among 11 in the CPM is the Union for the Republic of the west African state’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

On April 15, Moorish students clashed at Nouakchott university with Negro-Mauritanian students who were protesting over what they described as the “complete Arabisation of the administration” in Mauritania, a mainly desert nation where the Moors historically ruled over black African southerners.

A student who asked not to be named said that several people were injured by hurled stones.

Police stormed the campus and made about 30 arrests from the rival sides, a security source said. They used their batons and tear gas to break up the clashes.

The violence followed a series of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations about the language of the administration.

French-speaking students and opposition members, mainly Negro-Mauritanians, object to what they see as their exclusion from jobs, while Arabic speakers protest at the place given to French in the educational system and in the administration.

The polemic erupted after Mauritania on March 1 celebrated the day of the Arabic language, when Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohemd Laghdaf stated that the civilisation of the country was “Arabo-Islamic.”

Two weeks later, Minister of Superior Education Ahmed Ould Bahya tried to calm the situation down by declaring that “no option for a complete Arabisation” has been undertaken by the government.

The Coalition of the Democratic Opposition (COD), which includes the major opposition parties, stated at the end of March that the government was taking “demagogic” positions in the language debate.

The COD warned against the “risk of awakening ethnic dissensions and conflicts.”