ISSN 2330-717X

Mauritania: ‘Morality Police’ Demand Resurfaces


By Jemal Oumar

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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The Magharebia web site is sponsored by the United States Africa Command, the military command responsible for supporting and enhancing US efforts to promote stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

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