Mauritania. According to countryaah, the military junta, which took power in Mauritania through a coup on August 6, 2008, promised in January 2009 that elections would be held June 6 of that year. The coup had put an end to a burgeoning democracy that held its first democratic election as late as March 2007. The coup led to the overthrow of President-elect Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdellahi, but he was released in December 2008. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for abbreviation MR which stands for the nation of Mauritania.
In February 2009, the African Union (AU), which excluded the country after the coup, imposed sanctions on the country. The members of the military junta were banned from travel and were denied visas to the countries of the Union. AU also froze their bank accounts. Previously, for example, the US and the World Bank had stopped parts of their assistance to Mauritania. The United States had also introduced an entry ban for some of the junta members. In March, Mauritania cut off relations with Israel, which closed its embassy in Nouakchott. The country was previously one of the few Arab countries to have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Despite the election promise, a political crisis prevailed during the spring. The opposition parties threatened to boycott the elections because they felt they would not have enough time to prepare. After negotiations with international mediators, the military regime and the opposition agreed that the elections should be postponed until July and that a unity government be formed. The military junta announced that the election would be held July 18 with a possible second round on August 1. After that promise, the AU again welcomed Mauritania into the organization and lifted its sanctions on the country.
Nine candidates stood in the election, among them the three major opposition leaders. General and Cup leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz won 52 percent of the vote and thus no other round of voting was needed. It informed the Home Minister when only two-thirds of the votes were counted. Two came the Speaker of Parliament and the leader of the Left Alliance populaire progressiste (APP), Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, with 16 percent of the vote. According to the Election Commission, turnout was 61 percent. The opposition immediately accused the military regime of electoral fraud and demanded an international review. The chairman of the electoral commission chose to resign himself when he questioned whether the election had gone right. The Mauritanian Supreme Court approved the election results and observers from the AU were pleased with how the election had been conducted, but felt that the opposition’s protests should be investigated. General Abdel Aziz denied electoral fraud and called on the opposition to come up with evidence.
On August 11, Abdel Aziz formed a new government. He promised to address terrorism and its causes, as well as to fight poverty and the low level of education in the country.
A North African Islamist al-Qaeda group is suspected of operating in Mauritania and is believed to be behind several assaults, including the murders of four French tourists in December 2007 that led to the Paris-Dakar rally being set in 2008. In June 2009, an American aid worker was killed. In August, a suicide bomber attacked the Embassy of France. The suicide bomber died and two guards were lightly injured. The al-Qaeda group assumed responsibility for the aid worker’s death. The group was also suspected of the embassy attack, but did not assume responsibility for it.
In August, the American volunteer organization American Peace Corps left Mauritania for security reasons. The organization had worked in the country for over 40 years and had just over 100 relief workers on site. On November 29, three Spanish aid workers were kidnapped by a group that, according to the Interior Minister, is linked to al-Qaeda. A few days later, the president dismissed the chief of the national police, who was responsible for security on the road where the Spanish were captured.
Handcrafted goods such as dyed leather cushions, engraved silver items, carpets and woodcarvings are available in the open markets. A good selection of silver jewellery, sabres, wooden and silver boxes, carpets and decorated nomad tents can be purchased at the craft center in Nouakchott. The Tagant region is known for Neolithic arrowheads, awls and pottery, and at Boutilimit in the south of the country is a Marabout (Institute of High Islamic Studies) center producing rugs from goat and camel hair. Shop opening hours: Sat-Thurs 08.00-12.00 and 14.00-19.00.
In the capital there are Moroccan, Lebanese, Chinese and French restaurants, mostly in hotels. However, most restaurants serve traditional dishes. Special treats include mechoui (whole roasted lamb), dates, spiced fish with vegetables, fish balls, dried fish, dried meat, and couscous. Drinks: Alcoholic drinks are only offered in some hotel bars. Zrig (camel milk) and sweet mint tea are extremely popular.
The hotel offer is not very large and it is advisable to book in advance. The few hotels in Nouakchott are very comfortable (air conditioning) but quite expensive. Bills usually include service and taxes. More information from the Ministère du Commerce, de l’Artisanat et du Tourisme (see addresses).
Islam is the state religion (99.6% Malakite Sunnis); Christian minorities.
Social Rules of Conduct
The country has been influenced by Islam since the 7th century and visitors should respect the religious laws and customs. Women should dress modestly. Almost all inhabitants of Mauritania descend from nomadic tribes. Class and tribal rivalries are not uncommon. Tipping: 12-15% is usual.
Best travel time
Dry and hot, hardly any rain. In the south of the country there is a rainy season (July – Oct). Coastal temperatures are tempered by sea breezes; this does not apply to the area around Nouakchott, where it is very hot and the rainy season begins about a month later. The months of March and April are cool and windy in the desert.
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