Photo Essay: Mauritania mass rally 12 March 2012
I’ve collected some photos posted online today from the huge rally in Nouakchott, the biggest one in the history of Mauritania according to local contacts. Estimates vary for actual numbers, from anywhere between 20,000 and 80,000. Regardless, it was a massive show of strength and a clear signal to Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who could not fail to hear tens of thousands of people all chanting that they want the downfall of the regime. The coalition of political opposition parties (there are at least a dozen) made the call, and many activist and civil society groups joined them. Some – such as the powerful IRA leadership – only joined at the “last minute”.
Once the crowds had assembled, various members of the opposition gave a series of short speeches, mainly focused on the fact that both the president and the parliament are illegal and illegitimate, as explained in an earlier post.
For many activists today was like the realization of a dream, a great throng of chanting people surrounding the grey palace, as the presidential residence is known. Even Al Jazeera acknowledged the scale was something special. Recently “privatised” Mauritanian State TV behaved like every channel in every country that has experienced an uprising in the past 15 months, and tried to play down the entire affair.
Rumours were rife over the past few days about the regime making plans to disrupt the rally. There was some evidence of disruption, including distribution of flyers, slowing traffic, and arranging deliveries of food rations to help the poorest neighbourhoods (who are suffering the effects of increased food prices and water shortages the most) at the same time as the march was due to start. In spite of all these efforts, the march went ahead, and there was very little police presence. This is quite remarkable considering that just yesterday police were firing tear gas and sound grenades and attacking students at the Islamic Institute where a boycott of exams was in progress. Among the 10 female students that were beaten by police on Sunday was a girl who is 8 month’s pregnant. Latest reports are that she is unwell but stable. The news of police attacking girls was probably a deciding factor for a significant number of students who joined the protest. For the past few months, they have made a point of isolating themselves from other events. But today saw people from every imaginable group and sector of Mauritania’s kaleidoscopic society.
Another rally is planned for tomorrow in the country’s second largest city, and centre of the fishing trade, Nouadhibou. It will be interesting to see what happens after today’s massive turn-out. Will Nouadhibou’s residents want to match the capital, or will they be feeling overwhelmed by today’s event?
Also tomorrow, a convoy of activists arrive in Nouakchott from Nouadhibou, having covered the 470 kilometre trek on foot since their departure on March 1st. They are heading for the presidential palace, in order to present their list of grievances concerning social and economic hardship and injustice. A big crowd is expected to go out to meet them and join them on the last leg of their journey.
- Mauritania’s Feb25 Movement 1st Anniversary (lissnup.wordpress.com)
- Gallery: ISERI Student Protests in Mauritania (lissnup.wordpress.com)
- Mauritania ISERI Student’s “Day of Rage” in Pictures (lissnup.wordpress.com)
- Lo Gormo: “Mandate for Mauritania gov & parliament expired and clearly illegal” (lissnup.wordpress.com)