Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Dear Mr. President,

Peace and blessings of Allah be unto you!

I congratulate you for winning the elections and pray to Allah to help you shoulder these sacred duties and “indeed, we offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it.”

According to Freedom House’s 2018 report, our country is not free. Our freedom index ranking is barely 30 percent, while our southern neighbor, Senegal, is at 75 percent, indicating it is a free country. Even Mali is “Partly Free” with 44 percent, in spite of the many problems it faces. Scandinavian countries lead the list, as usual, with 100 percent scores in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The bottom of the list was reserved for Arab countries, with the exception of Tunisia, with a freedom index of 70 percent, and the partly free Comoros Islands with 55 percent. According to Freedom House, Tunisia is the only Arab country that can be described as free, in spite of its economic problems, persistent security threats and Arab neighbors who tend to be hostile to freedom and the notion of human rights. Mauritania was considered “partly free” in 2008 after the transparent elections and the peaceful transition of power. However, the country fell back and joined its Arab neighbors after the military removed the elected president.

Reporters Without Borders ranks our country 94 out of 180 countries in terms of freedom of the press, and again we find ourselves in the warmth of the company of other Arab countries. As we say in this country, “dying in ten” is a breather. The situation of freedom of the press in our region is simply appalling, sad and gloomy. The most free press in the Arab World is found in the Comoros Island, in 56th place internationally, followed by Tunisia in 72nd place. In comparison, Senegal is in 49th place in last year’s Reporters Without Borders ratings, in spite of the fact that it’s considered a modest third world country with limited resources. 

Like Arab countries, who possess all the necessary means that qualify them to be among the free and civilized countries, offering freedom, prosperity and dignified life to their citizens, in Mauritania, as candidate Ghazouani pointed out in his first campaign speech, and rightly so, more democracy means more foreign investment. Once again, Mauritania finds itself in the warmth of the decaying and corrupt Arab systems, where those in power abuse the poor and the oppressed. Most of the time, the oppressed live in fear and with no meaningful ways to hold those with power and influence accountable.

Even though Qatar and the UAE are not considered free, they rank relatively high in terms of transparency in financial transactions and the only free state in the region; Tunisia is trying hard to catch up with the free world as it is ranked at seventy. 

Although political freedoms are not as they should be in Mauritania, there has been positive, although modest, economic development in the last decade. The standard of living of the population in general has risen and the poverty rate has decreased from a devastating 44.5 percent to the current 33 percent, according to the latest data from the World Bank. The population is just over four million, half of whom live in cities; however, only 55 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are enrolled in schools. Our GDP has been growing steadily since 2008, but not enough to match the growth of the population. The good news for the new president is that our country has the potential to grow in the presence of political will. According to the World Bank, the “medium-term economic outlook is favorable. Growth is projected to increase to an average of 6.2 percent for the 2019-2021 period.”

Like Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, the CIA's periodic fact book report on our country gives a bleak picture of fundamental freedoms and economic and social justice. These reports come from thorough, scientific and comprehensive study of all countries and are published by the agency in order to inform the American people about the world around them. 

If we believe in the urgency of this matter, we need to change and we need to change now, and we can.

In his response to a reporter's question as to whether the military is governing our country, President Ould Abdel Aziz said that the army had taken over in 1978 for the first time, citing the first coup d’etat against the first president of our country, Ould Daddah. The President added that the military staged two other coup d’etats against itself in 1984 and 2005. He then added the coup of 2008 that he himself led, describing it practically as a coup d’etat, which was rather courageous on his part, although some of his supporters insist on describing the coup as a "revolution of the People." He summed up the Mauritanian army's case as the proverbial "meat of the neck,” which people criticize and end up eating anyway. Strangely, the President stated that the Army did not govern the state, but instead that it was "political groups and ideologies" that used the army as a tool to govern the country. For that very reason, the army decided to sideline said groups after 2005, because they "ruined" the country.

The president explained that the military decided to cede power after the 2005 coup and to disappear completely from the political scene. I’m struggling to understand this point because, to my mind, removing the leader of a country and establishing a new one is the ultimate intervention in politics!

For the foregoing, I am addressing the new President with the following requests, provided they are within his constitutional prerogatives, in order to improve the situation of our country and to catch up with the rest of the free world, providing social justice and a decent living for the citizens of this country.

I wish, Mr. President, that I was in a country where the institutions of democracy had evolved in such a way as to allow you to be held accountable, which would be in the best of both our interests.

Democratic institutions would do this job for me and ensure that the rights of citizens are respected. Institutions to hold everyone accountable are taken for granted in the free world. As I understand, in my country you are beyond any kind of accountability. The only way forward is for you to try to hold yourself accountable. 

Sadly, we still live in a culture of fear of the president and the oppression and violence of his henchmen. We are afraid of being unjustly thrown in jail and deprived of our basic rights, when we dare to oppose you. The president does not have to love those who oppose him; he can even reciprocate if he wishes to do so. However, he must give them what is theirs by virtue of law. When the U.S. journalist Jim Acosta defied President Trump and openly argued with him in a live broadcast, Mr. Trump tried to exclude him from the White House press corps, and the whole world was watching with me to see how the situation would unfold. In the end, a simple journalist won against the president and was allowed back in the White House in spite of the wishes of arguably the most powerful man on the planet. The only winner here is the law and everyone who cares about it, and the only loser is the one who doesn’t want to abide by the law.

This event did not diminish the prestige of the United States or the prestige of its president; on the contrary decent people viewed the country with more respect when it showed that no one was above the law or accountability and that the people could hold even the president accountable.

Do you, Mr. president want to be the president of four million scared, broken and subdued slaves, or do you want to be the president of free people, raising their heads high up, with no fear except of Allah or the wolf getting their goats?

If you share my wish for the latter, I offer these five requests:

1) I request the immediate dissolution of the parliament, as legislated by article 31 of the constitution, the call for real free and fair elections that include everyone. The old ways of using institutions of the state, blackmailing businessmen and arm twisting in many ways to ensure a certain outcome must be banished.

There is no free country without a strong and independent parliament. I would understand if you, Mr. President, don’t wish to have a parliament that would impede your program since you currently have a rigged parliament that would pass everything you wish with warm standing ovations. A parliament on your side is a good thing when it’s the free choice of the people, otherwise it’s a sham that no honorable man would accept for his country. My people must be provided with a meaningful environment to choose their representatives, and I dare say it’s in the president’s best interest to have real opposition to check and set him straight. 

A parliament of 80 percent of your supporters is more a joke than anything else, and our country deserves better. It is a living proof of the lack of democracy and the exclusion of peaceful political opponents. No one in this country buys into the idea that so many Mauritanians would vote this favorably any one way. We like to argue, and within the same family we find the whole political spectrum fully represented. I believe that 30 percent would be a historical win for any political party in this country. It would reflect who we are and the fact that we are diverse.

The Quran teaches us that, without checks and balances, the earth would become corrupt. “And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned.”

2) I request the building of a mixed and inclusive national committee to fix the judicial branch. The judicial branch is not a luxury; it’s something that a simple citizen badly needs to get his rights when some “higher ups” give orders to deprive him or her of his or her rights.

When the people elected you, Mr. President, they trusted you with the exclusive use of violence. You must not use violence to achieve your personal goals but for the interest of the country and the people. And for that very reason you must be scrutinized more than any citizen in this country because of the kind of power we give you. We cannot hold you accountable without an independent judge, who fears nothing but Allah and listens to no one except the text of the law derived from our holy tradition and his sound conscience. A judge who fears the punishment of his president is not worthy of the bench in our republic.

A judge has a sacred duty and must rule without fear. I know that the state often does not intervene in cases involving only citizens, but many of the crucial cases are raised against the state and its influential workers. We need the judge to ensure the rights of the weak citizens and to twist the arm of the oppressor and force him to comply with the law. 

3) We need to fix our education system and integrate the Mahdara into the existing French education system. For this we need a national committee, comprising government officials, representatives from civil society and regular citizens. There is no reason why we shouldn’t learn from successful education systems, such as those in Scandinavian countries and in Germany.

4) We need to be wary of yes-men. The last thing you need, Mr. President, is the choir of your praisers and hypocrites, including journalists, so-called intellectuals and clerics, who have already started to take their positions, swarming you from everywhere. I’m reminded of the great scholar from Andalusia, Mohamed Ibn Hazm’s (b. 799 AD), “Do not let yourself be fooled by the bandits, who claim to be clerics, wearing sheep clothes and having hearts of lions. They embellish the deeds of the evil people and support them. Our only way out is to speak the truth; preaching morality and combating the wrong.”

I assume that you, Mr. President, understand as much as I do that those praising you don’t mean what they say. They only use you to steal the money of the people and enrich themselves illegally.

5) We need to improve diplomatic relations with the neighboring Arab and African countries and with the leading countries of the world, while maintaining our independence. We must not give in to illegal pressure and blackmail. A country can only blackmail a president if it has evidence he committed a crime against his people.

We must have good diplomatic relations will all countries because that would reflect the will of the people, who love peace and detest wrongdoing.

Peace and Blessings of Allah be unto you!

Mohamedou Ould Salahi