By Bakari Gueye and Jemal Oumar
Mauritanian authorities on Wednesday (August 10th) launched a new drive to reintegrate former Salafist prisoners into society, offering them monetary assistance to restart their lives.
Thirty-six former detainees, pardoned last year on Eid al-Fitr, will benefit from what the government calls “inclusion operations”. The plan is to support self-employment opportunities and help the ex-prisoners find ways to earn a living.
“This aid will enable them like all segments of the Mauritanian population to be reintegrated in the society while benefiting from acceptable moral and material conditions,” the National Agency for the Promotion of Youth Employment (ANAPEJ) said.
The group is running the operation, in partnership with the National Agency for the Promotion of Youth Employment (ANAPEJ), the Islamic Affairs Ministry and Credit Unions for Savings and Loans (CAPEC).
The projects presented by the beneficiaries were considered “acceptable”, which earned them financial help amounting to 3 million Ouguiyas (7,500 euros) each.
Akhbar Nouakchott Managing Editor Ahmed Ould Mouhamedou lauded the initiative, saying that it was “encouraging in the sense that it allows some people who were detained for a long time to restart with an activity that would make them able to face the problems of everyday life”.
“Through dialogue with the scholars, those people were able to revise their ideology. This is a good thing. I find that improving living conditions could help to deal with extremism,” commented Houssein Ould Medou, head of the Mauritanian Union of Journalists (SJM). He added that authorities should support unemployed graduates.
“The initiative is good but we must think of something more permanent; setting up a more adequate education system and being much more watchful towards religious speeches in mosques,” said Mohamed Vall Ould Oumère, director of the Tribune.
Abdellahi Ould Ebouh, a spokesman for the ex-Salafists benefiting from the programme, said that it was a positive step, adding that it was “in response to a previously stated commitment of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance to give us money to help us integrate into life after the prison experience”.
“It helps many young people who have hopes to open small businesses to help them cope with life, especially since most of them come from poor families and have no material means,” Ould Ebouh told Magharebia.
Ould Ebouh added: “But the importance of this assistance is to enable prisoners to rely on themselves, after some of them had lost institutions and enterprises that they owned prior to going to prison, especially since the chances of some of them to get a job after getting out of prison are very slim because some people have reservations in employing ex-terrorists.”
The grants are “to assist reintegration, self-reliance and standing up on one’s feet again”, he said.
In the same context, former Salafist prisoner and past aid beneficiary Malek Ould Abdelvettah, said, “I also value this step that aims to relieve us of some suffering, but for me, it is not sufficient, because the prison caused us so much damage that cannot be compensated by such amounts. Before entering prison, some of us were studying, others were engaged in a profession and some had businesses, and the period spent in prison ruined all that”.
“The hardest thing we experience is the refusal of some relatives and parents to employ us on the grounds that we are accused of terrorism,” said Ould Abdelvettah.
Another former prisoner, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, who goes by Cheakh, said, “There is no doubt that this initiative is good because it comes in support of young people”.
“But we hoped that this help would include the rest of our colleagues from the prisoners who participated in the dialogue and jurisprudential reviews, which led to our release. Prisoners such as Bachir Sal, Tahar Ould Bi and others, and I hope to convince the rest of the Salafi prisoners who still insist on their positions,” he told Magharebia.
“I hope that they review their ideology and return to the moderate Sunni group in order to benefit from the amnesty and receive assistance to help them cope with life,” he said.