You may not have heard of it, but the West African country of Mauritania has what is probably one of the most vibrant and active protest movements in the world today. Protests drawing tens of thousands of people (out of a total population of just three million) take place almost weekly in the capital Nouakchott, with many smaller protests happening on a daily basis around the vast country. The protests are overwhelmingly nonviolent — even in the face of frequent violent suppression — and have been going on since February 2011.
It would be comfortable to file these protests as another part of the Arab Spring: Mauritania is on the southern reaches of the Saharan Arab belt, and large-scale protests here started with the self-immolation and subsequent death of Yacoub Ould Dahoud, an action mirroring the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, which set off the revolt in Tunisia. As in other Arab countries that experienced large-scale protests, Mauritania is governed by an autocratic regime whose leader, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, originally came to power through a coup d’état.
But while these similarities exist and the pro-democracy protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world surely have been a source of great inspiration for local activists, Mauritania merits a second look.
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