Mauritania : Global Brotherhood Meets to Plan Future Strategy

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Supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood (C) Mohamed Badie flashes the four finger symbol known as "Rabaa", meaning four in Arabic

Away from the watchful eyes of the world media and under the guise of attending a conference in Mauritania, prominent members of the international Muslim Brotherhood will meet openly on Friday, December 22, 2017, for the first time since the downfall of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s failed president from the Brotherhood’s party.

Even though the terror organization Hamas allegedly separated from the Brotherhood, it will be represented at the three-day meeting by group’s top official in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, a well-known member of Hamas’ politburo.

Turkey will also send representatives from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (the AKP).

Other Muslim Brotherhood political parties and organizations will attend from Kuwait, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mali, Senegal and other locations in Africa.

The ostensible conference the Brotherhood members will attend is the annual rally for the Reform and Development Party in Mauritania, or Tewassoul, the Brotherhood affiliate in the African nation.

Speaking to Albawabh News, Tarik Al-Bashabishi, a former member of the Brotherhood,  commented on the unusual meeting, saying the  fact that the Brotherhood is gathering in Mauritania means they are not able to hold such a meeting in any of their home countries.

The Brotherhood doesn’t dare hold meetings in Qatar right now because of Qatar’s crisis with the Arab countries, Bashabishi added.

Turkey is also not an option, as the Brotherhood wishes to remain out of the spotlight.

He noted that Mauritania is a thus good option for the Brotherhood, as  it is far from the eyes of the international media and offers a place where high-level members of the Brotherhood can freely move about and discuss how to get the Brotherhood out of its current crisis.

He expected the first thing on their agenda will be the crisis caused by U.S. President Donald Trump when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Bashabishi said this current issue is perfect for the Brotherhood to cynically leverage for popular support to rejuvenate the organization.

He also predicted the Brotherhood would call on their branches internationally to re-engage in the political life of their countries, reversing the failed strategy of withdrawing from politics implemented in Egypt after Morsi’s fall from power.

The effect of that policy, which has kept the Brotherhood out of the public eye, has only been to create political distance between “the street” and the Brotherhood, thus significantly lessening the organization’s popularity, he said.

Palestinian scholar Ibrahim A-Dahoun remarked that re-engaging in politics is a way of repositioning Brotherhood organizations in individual countries.

The decrease of popularity of the Brotherhood is a function of the fact that the public views the organization as concerned only for itself. This strategy will make it seem as if its focus is on national identity.

A-Dahoun also said that even though the Brotherhood (under world pressure) erased the paragraph in their manifesto stating that Hamas was the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood, it doesn’t mean that Hamas is not a part of the Brotherhood anymore.

Rather, he said, it still maintains its “Muslim Brotherhood identity.”

The only difference is that Hamas is no longer taking orders from the international Brotherhood organization on the Jerusalem issue.

Khalid a-Zafarani, another former Brotherhood member who spoke to Albawabh News, said the fact the meeting was ostensibly called to discuss the Palestinian issue is a farce.

He maintained that it is actually a meeting of the international Brotherhood organization to put together recommendations as to how to rescue the Brotherhood from its current crisis.

Samech Eid, another former Brotherhood membersaid this international meeting was ordered by the Egyptian Brotherhood (considered the leader of the international organization) because they needed a place to meet away from Western eyes.

He said it is obvious the organization is coordinating its efforts in its branches in different countries as to how to use the Jerusalem issue to further the goals of the organization.

He also predicted that in the near future, the Brotherhood will build its presence in North Africa far from the eyes of the world, taking advantage of the poverty and unemployment there to build support.

They will further use their “humanitarian” work in these African countries to improve their image on the international scene.

Islamism and Society: 

Mauritania is often referred to as the cradle of the Almoravid movement, which during the 11th century spread Islam throughout most parts of north and West Africa, and controlled the Islamic part of Spain.

 Mauritania’s demographic and cultural heritage is very diverse, reflecting the confluence of the major groups from the south and north of the Sahara.

In comparison with its huge landmass, the population is sparsely distributed and estimated to be 4,205,468, divided among the following ethnic groups: Black Moors—also known as Haratines or Arab-speaking descendants of slaves (40%), White Moors—of Arab-Berber descent, also known as Bidhan (30%), and Black Africans—comprising non-Arabic speaking Africans, Halpulaar, Soninke, Wolof, and Bamara ethnic groups (30%).

Mauritania is one of the world’s most impoverished countries with a per capita GDP of U.S. $1,060.

 Socio-economic hardships, ranging from limited educational opportunities, unemployment, poor health services and a very low quality of life.

The country’s economic figures offer a glimpse of this reality: Life expectancy is low even by African standards, at 58 for men and 62 for women.

Its arid climate and desert landscape impede the possibility of developing a strong agricultural sector, which could at least provide a framework for a sustainable economy.

In addition, the country suffers from periodic climatic calamities, such as severe droughts, which further add to its economic woes.

Socially, the country’s inhabitants, although entirely Muslim, are divided between the Arab elite and black Africans, many of them referred to as Haratins.

This ethnic group, the largest among the country’s ethnic composition, suffers from various forms of official and unofficial discrimination, and occupies the lowest rungs of Mauritanian society.

Indeed, slavery altogether remains an ongoing issue in Mauritania.

Although officially banned in 1981, many contend that slavery is still practiced in various forms throughout the country, further exacerbating existing tensions between the Arab elites and the “Black Mauritanians,” as they are commonly known.

Islam has served as the sole unifying element in this highly fractured society. But, despite this role, Islamism as a political force has remained limited and restricted in Mauritania over the years.

Islamist-oriented activity has had various manifestations, ranging from mostly charitable organizations to a loose set of political groups inspired by Wahhabism, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and several Islamist figures (including the Sudanese activist Hassan al-Turabi).

The Mauritanian authorities’ successful repression of Islamist political activity over the years has further weakened any attempts to establish a strong Islamist political presence.

Despite the rise in Islamist activity in the region, the Mauritanian public has not displayed great sympathy or support toward these actions.

The AQIM attack near the French embassy in August 2008, for example, was largely condemned by Mauritanians, including Tawassoul, whose spiritual leader, Mohamed Hassan Ould Dedew, deemed the attack “an act of barbarism” and “completely foreign” to Mauritanian Islam.

One observer has noted that Mauritanians view AQIM as serving a foreign ideology that is hostile to their traditional societal values.

Salafism is not viewed with high regard; it is seen as a fringe movement. Violent Islamism is also frowned upon and seen as a source of disorder and instability.

Even with its rich natural resources such as oil, iron ore, copper, fish, gypsum, phosphate, diamonds, and gold,Mauritania by any standards is one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

Although Mauritania largely escaped the wave of terrorism that swept across North Africa in the 1990s and the Arab Spring that began in 2011, Mauritania’s youths have not been able to escape the recent undercurrents of violent Islamism spread by ISIS and al Qaeda.

Youth vulnerability has been accentuated by widespread poverty and unemployment and the aggressive propaganda of Islamist groups on social media. Observers have stressed the importance of online social media as the fastest growing pathway to youth radicalization and recruitment into violent extremism.

Mauritania’s divided and belligerent military is also seen as one of the forces of youth radicalization. The military remains central in the Mauritanian society controlling political and economic activities.

This means that the state’s responses to social, economic and political issues are primarily military in nature, which turns to frustrate disaffected youths, who may seek revenge through an option of joining a terrorist group.

The vulnerability of Mauritania is further complicated by transnational organized crime.

The strategic geographic location of the country offers an important transient point for arms smuggling, human trafficking, cigarette and drug trafficking (including cocaine from South America destined for Europe).

Cigarette smuggling and contraband have been highlighted by various reports as having contributed to the emergence of the practices and networks that have allowed drug trafficking to grow in the Sahel, in which Mauritania plays an important role.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “State complicity with organized crime is at the heart of instability in the Sahel and Sahara region, fomenting conflict and fueling the rise of al-Qaeda.”

Observers also fear the historic tension between the Haratins (former slaves and their descendants) and former slave owners, which has been referred to as Mauritania’s own apartheid system.

Despite the abolition of slavery in 1980 in Mauritania, the practice has persisted and today stokes conflict between abolitionists and those who still believe some aspects of the practice should continue.

Such conflict could exacerbate insecurity, which could be exploited by groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda. Despite the absence of any solid evidence, there are claims that ISIS, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram have training camps in Mauritania, with some sources going as far as stating that at least “80 trainees, recruits from the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe, including France, are known to be training at the camps.”

ISIS and al-Qaeda are posing as better alternatives to corrupt and poorly governed secular governments.

The ISIS model, particularly the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate in 2014, which the group is encouraging all Muslim youths to be a part of, has attracted a record number of foreign fighters, which the United Nations estimated in January 2016 to be 30 000 from over 100 countries.

Although it is known that a sizable number of Mauritanians have joined the Islamic State, the exact number of Mauritanian foreign fighters is not known.

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