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Moor Family Feud

Why the recent coup in Mauritania matters.

12:00 AM, Aug 28, 2008 • By ROGER KAPLAN
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Mauritania's fisheries on the Atlantic coast (between Morocco and Senegal), though abundant, are beset by trawlers from Japan and Europe, commercial pirates in all but name. Western nations' calls for democratic governance and the rule of law do not include offers to help create a coast guard and navy one of whose priorities would be to put an end to the lawless fleets that supply ocean delicacies to Parisian brasseries and Tokyo sushi bars. Instead, the United States, France, and other powers were quick to back the African Union in demanding the return to office of President Ould Cheik Abdallahi, suspending "non-humanitarian" aid in the process.

The African Union in recent years intervened in Togo and the Comoros to reverse coups against governments sanctioned by democratic legitimacy, and U.S. diplomacy cannot easily go against the AU principle of opposing the eviction of elected governments by force. The coup against Maaouiya Ould Taya in 2005 was met with the same chorus of disapproval, but the calm haste with which the colonels (as General Ould Abdelaziz and his fellow-officers then were) insisted on return to civilian governance reassured observers that this nation, located at one of the geographic and cultural crossroads of the continent, might know a bit more about finding its way than its would-be mentors.

Roger Kaplan is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.