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'Morality police' demand resurfaces in Mauritania

By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 25/05/12

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Maghreb society is witnessing the latest round of protests by groups calling for the implementation of 'Islamic behaviour' in everyday life.

These demands occasionally turn into action, as in the recent alleged attack by salafists on a girl in Rabat over the length of her skirt.

In Mauritania the demands have taken a more organised form, with the creation of the "No to Pornography" movement by young people last year. The group, aiming to promote virtue and prevent vice, has organised Friday demonstrations outside mosques and marches throughout Nouakchott. Participants in the events wave signs calling for a bans on improper dress, pornography, prostitution and liquor sales.

These requests were repeated in a ten-point statement distributed at marches last week. Additional demands include the creation of "morality police", stiffer penalties for rape and other sex crimes, and a series of religious reforms to public education.

The group promised further action, stating that it would "form a legal team as soon as possible to file legal action against entities involved in disseminating pornography and debauchery in Mauritanian society".

Mohamed Ali Ould Elbey, co-ordinator of the "No to Pornography" initiative, told Magharebia about his next steps.

"So far, our role has been restricted to condemnation," he said. "However, if this step doesn't realise our goals, we will examine how to escalate our efforts in the future."

Ould Elbey said that certain women would be exempt from new standards of dress, at least temporarily.

"For the time being, we can't prevent women from wearing indecent clothes as we don't want to raise any ethnic sensitivity between the components of Mauritanian society, especially as there are no laws in effect on this issue," he said. "We will prohibit it gradually, to pave the way for a public pronouncement. As of the beginning of next school year, we will bind school girls to wear decent dress."

"No to Pornography" also reached out to telecom providers to block sexual or objectionable websites, Ould Elbey said.

In reaction to the public debate in Morocco over the suicide of a 16-year-old girl forced to marry her rapist, Ould Elbey said his group would "request that parliament enact a law preventing rapists from marrying raped women."

Public opinion in Mauritania appears divided on these issues.

According to journalist Zine El Abidine Ould Mohamed, many have trivialised the members of "No to Pornography" as young people from conservative circles who received mahdhara education, "because they are making non-essential demands".

"There can't be any radical salafist current behind them, since their demands are usually deeper and more radical, such as demanding the application of Islamic Sharia," he added.

Writer Mohammed Ould Zain told Magharebia that official agencies were behind this group, to pull the rug out from under Islamist political forces.

Sheikh Mohamed Ould Harmah said that the group was exploiting the freedom of expression provided by democracy in order to attack others and denying them the freedom of behaviour.

"This is contradictory behaviour, because its proponents are taking advantage of the margin of freedom in preventing freedom," he added. "Didn't it occur to them that no one had prevented them from acting and thinking in the way they wanted? Do they think they possess tutelage over this society that has scholars and faqihs?"

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    citoyen 2012-5-27

    When the leaders are incapable of meeting the legitimate expectations of the peoples, which are basically almost exactly these things: security, employment, education, healthcare, housing, etc., they act like puppets to divert attention and concentrate energy on false problems and divide the public to divert them from what is important. May the public officials do their jobs, for which they are highly paid on the taxpayers’ and citizen’s dime. The are accountable to the citizens. And may they leave private morals to the persons concerned – to each adult and person responsible for his underage children. Anything else is just interference in basic human rights and an attempt at diversion. May these leaders know that all these little politico tricks are leading straight to a brick wall. But, if they are want to see morality police, their object should be public morality, which is quite bankrupt and which concerns the public powers among other things. But, this generalised evil must be dealt with from the top down, from the North to the South, starting with the so-called international bodies of “global governance”, which no one ever elected and which is imposing a corrupt order on the world. Private morals are not the responsibility of the state; the state should not interfere in them or accept actions such as the one above because public order is the responsibility of the state. However, it is clear that in doing its job, the state would contribute to social morality given that vice feeds off of poverty. Education and employment are the best antidotes to vice known at this time.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Sidi Med 2012-5-27

    Absurd and bad analysis… The initiative “No to Pornography” was created in order to protect morals of society not by imposing anything on people but through guidance, raising-awareness and legal prosecution of the criminals. The goal of this initiative is to impose the implementation of law by authorities. Here is its page on facebook if you want to get an idea about its action.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    susu 2012-5-26

    As a young person, I think that this initiative is without merit and will strictly lead to nothing besides dividing the country’s unity. As they say, “Freedom stops where the freedom of others begins”. And, religion should be in the sphere of privacy. In other words, let young people live. In our experience, the wrongdoer Ould Elby is a fundamentalist who does not care about or perspective on things. Go back to Mahadra and let each and everyone of us live according to our senses!