Editorial in Nouakchott Info: "The Much-Awaited Political Turnaround Did Not Truly Take Place"
In Mauritania itself, the introduction of democracy was welcomed, but some expressed disappointment that the political landscape did not change more than it did. In particular, many observed that the elections had not significantly altered the balance of power between the Arab-Berber elites on the one hand, and former black slaves and their descendants (known as haratin
, sing: hartani
) and Black African groups on the other. The new president, Sidi Ould Sheikh 'Abdallahi, acknowledged the salience of this issue when, in his inaugural speech, he listed as the first element in his program of reform "the consolidation of national unity so as to achieve harmony among the constituent elements of our people, to do away with negative after-effects inherited from the past, and to bring to all the Mauritaniansâ€¦ wide possibilities for participation in the building of their countryâ€¦" 
Mohamed Ould Ahmed Elkoury, writing in an April 17 front-page editorial in Nouakchott Info
, was less convinced that this was going to be the case. He wrote that at first the transition had inspired hope: "â€¦The swiftness of action and the realism of the [CMJD], the national consensus that emerged from days of consultations with the political parties and civil society, and the more or less wait-and-see attitude of the international community all gave room for optimismâ€¦"
But Elkoury reproached the CMJD for deciding to allow independent candidates to run outside of party structures. In his view, this opened the door to the sort of backroom deals that allowed race to be a decisive factor in the elections: "Nonetheless, and contrary to expectations, a secret alchemy concocted among the military men [i.e. the CMJD] cameâ€¦ and sounded the death knell of the neutrality of the military men, which they had declared from every rooftop.
"The door was then opened wide to the independents, to the great detriment of well-structured political partiesâ€¦ At this stage of the evolution of the Mauritanian political scene, [one would have had to be] quite clever in order to imagine the future repercussions of this option for the entire process of democratic transition. In essence, nobody thought for a single moment that the independents were going to deliberately and shamelessly exploit that which most divides the country, and still remains in our days a deficiency on the path to economic and social progress - namely, the path of regionalism and tribalismâ€¦
"The new political map in Mauritania quite naturally took form in function of these occult alliances, something which is inopportune and anachronistic at the dawn of the 21st century - but remarkably efficient.
"The Mauritanian people stoically accepted the new rules of the gameâ€¦ even if they deserved a scenario much more in line with the ideals of justice and democracyâ€¦"
Elkoury holds up as an example the Mauritanian nationalism that accompanied independence in the early 1960s: "It is this Mauritaniaâ€¦ that the CMJD's democratic transition should have put forward, instead of playing imprudently on the history and the myths of the collective unconscious of the people of the great sandy expanses [i.e. the Arab-Berber elite].
"Any way you look at it, the Mauritanians made their choice at the ballot box, freely and transparently. But the much-awaited political turnaround did not truly take placeâ€¦" 
Black Activist Abou Hamidou Sy: "Today, at the End of this Transition-without-Rupture, Everything Indicates that the Old Demons Will Be Back"
The website of the FLAM (Forces de liberation africaines de Mauritanie), a movement founded in 1983 to fight for racial equality, was even more pessimistic. In a March 23 article titled "The Transition Fell Short," Abou Hamidou Sy, a FLAM journalist and activist living abroad, wrote:
"After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, Paul Bremerâ€¦ took a series of measures, the most spectacular of which was the dismantling of the Iraqi army and the prohibition of the Ba'th party. While these measures aroused much controversy at the time, they were nonetheless justifiable: [the aim was] to forestall any regression. It was these kinds of precautions that the CMJD did not want to undertake, and today, at the end of this transition-without-rupture, everything indicates that the old demons will be back.
"Of course in our case there was no need to be so radical and ruin all of our institutions. But the gangrene should have been extirpated, namely: the Arab chauvinism of the Ba'thist and Nasserist elements that have infiltrated all levels of the stateâ€¦
"When Ely [Mohamed Ould Vall] says that there will be no witch-huntsâ€¦ and proposes independent candidatures for the barons of the ancien regime
, this says a lot about his intentionsâ€¦ What is going on [in Mauritania] is neither democracy nor its 'cousin.' It is nothing but an evolution of the mechanisms of distribution of power among the Arab-Berber tribes. We have gone from coups d'etatâ€¦ to tribal alliances with a democratic unction, so as not to alienate the international communityâ€¦" 
*Daniel Lav is Director of MEMRI's Reform Project