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Mauritania: The Reexaminations of Islamists.

Byline: Mohamed al-Ashab

The experience of intellectual and ideopolitical reexaminations that have begun to take place in the way some extremist Islamists in Mauritania deal with the state and with society will neither be the first nor the last. Indeed, they were preceded by experiences in Egypt, Algeria and Libya, which were little more than milestones that failed to curtail the growth of the phenomenon. Yet their coinciding with the preoccupation of neighboring countries and of world capitals with the spread of the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb over areas greater than their base of operations would drive one to believe that the matter indicates the desire to contain the phenomenon, which has spiraled out of control.

What is noteworthy is that every time Mauritania tries to get closer to democratic normalization, security breaches become more acute and extremist organizations race to announce their existence. A few years ago, in fact, when the regime of President Maaouya Ould Taya held the situation with an iron fist, Nouakchott was not suffering the blows of terrorist activity. The fact is that the Algerian experience itself has been linked to a tendency for the state to organize elections that seem pluralistic, resulting in the emergence of a violent clash between the Islamists and the army for monopoly.

Does this mean that openness brings postponed conflicts, or does it help situations that were being kept obscured to erupt at the same time? In any case, openness and extremism do not meet, like water and fire, and the further openness goes in modernizing the aspects of daily life, the more it provokes extremists into taking it as a pretext to declare war.

The situation differs in countries under occupation. Indeed, it is more likely for political and ideological categories to regress when the unity of the battle and of the goal is at risk. Moreover, reexaminations that aim at bringing some armed movements such as the Taliban and Islamist organizations in Iraq to the negotiations table seem to be different. Indeed, many liberation movements have resorted to negotiating with the occupier, as in the well-known precedents of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN - Front de LibE[umlaut]ration Nationale) or the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the differences residing in the circumstances and the results. The matter here does not fall within the framework of reexaminations as much as it is connected to managing the conflict and estimating the balance of power.

In cases reaching armed or unarmed Islamist organizations, reexaminations become a phase in the experience of self-criticism necessary to correct the course. And if calls to initiate dialogue come from the side of the authorities, as in the experiment of civil harmony adopted by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, or the reexaminations encouraged by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, this means that dialogue is not complete without participants. And if it becomes required of such Islamist organizations to agree to renounce violence and engage in legitimate political activity, clearly determined in a timeframe for achieving the goals of peaceful alternation of power, it becomes required to the same extent of the authorities concerned to abide by the law and to avoid abuse and transgressions in their use of power. In fact, it is paradoxical in this respect that Western countries that are supposed to take the lead in the war against terrorism and extremism criticize authoritarian practices that lack the dimension of respecting human rights in dealing with the problems of extremism.

The formula of intellectual reexaminations, which are supposed to encompass all of the phenomenon's difficulties, has come to represent one of the accepted methodologies within the policy of listening to the other. Nevertheless, this remains contingent on the extent to which the conviction of mutually acknowledging the other is well-entrenched in organizations with stringent authorities of reference. And as it is not acceptable for the state and society to exclude those who disagree with them, it is not acceptable for any organization to monopolize the truth, especially in light of having experienced the features of dead-end roads.

In light of the experience of Morocco, it has happened for members of extremist organizations to benefit from royal pardons for humanitarian and intellectual reasons that aim at encouraging the reexamination of ideas. Yet what is noteworthy is that some of these individuals, as in the case of the Ansar Al-Mahdi organization, were pioneers in returning to engage in extremist activities, thereby wasting for the country and for themselves the opportunity of returning to lucidity. Yet such a reality is not absolute. Indeed, there are convictions in the process of taking shape which indicate the possibility of benefiting from deeper reexaminations. And how useful it would be if these convictions were to grow in soil adequate for planting openness!

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Publication:Dar Al Hayat, International ed. (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Feb 4, 2010
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