Dubai: Less than a week after his party secured a resounding success in the parliamentary, mayoral and regional elections, Mauritania President Mohammad Ould Abdul Aziz told reporters that he would not tolerate religion being used to serve extremism. “We will never accept the use of religion for the benefit of political extremism,” he said as he reviewed the outcome of the September 15 polls and his party’s way forward.

The ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) and its allies won 120 of the 157 seats in the parliament in September.

Tawassoul, the country’s principal Islamist party, won 14 seats in the first round.

Mauritania, a vast country that bridges the Arab Maghreb and western sub-Saharan Africa, has been grappling with a range of issues that include lack of economic and social development, the consolidation of civil institutions and the growth of religious influence, especially following the strong showing of Tawassoul in the previous elections.

As the Islamist party fared less strongly in September, the Mauritanian president used the results to minimise its power and warn Mauritanians against all religion-based parties that, he insisted, have caused a lot of damage. “The misfortunes of the Arab world are attributed to the occupation of Palestine, but these misfortunes have increased with the use of religion for political purposes, leading Arab countries to destruction and failure while putting Israel in a comfortable situation without [exerting] efforts,” he said.

Abdul Aziz stressed religion was not the monopoly of a specific party.

“Islam belongs to the people of Mauritania with all its components, and not to a particular group. It is not normal to have a party monopolising Islam. It is not acceptable now and it will not be acceptable in the future.”

He added that “action will be taken in a timely manner,” but did not divulge further details.

During the election campaign trail, the president was quoted as saying that “extremist parties are responsible for ruining Arab societies and Arab nations”.

“We are hearing them here speaking in the name of Islam ... Islam is our religion and not for them to exploit for politics and collect money,” he said.

The president’s remarks on Thursday were understood to imply that authorities were moving to ban the Muslim Brotherhood in all its forms, including Tawassoul and all related financial, commercial and media associations and organisations.

For Mohammad Saleck Ould Brahim, a Mauritanian analyst, consultant, researcher and curator, the president’s remarks were in line with the tense political speeches that had marked the elections.

He told Gulf News from the capital Nouakchott: “In such an atmosphere, political opponents usually do not shy away from using expressions, descriptions and certain concepts, including ‘extremism’, without any scientific or systematic reservation. [They do this] just to score points against one another in [the court of] public opinion. The government had concerns about the growth of Tawassoul ahead of the presidential polls, which will be held within less than one year.”

He added: “There is a need to form a new political paradigm that would help defuse tensions. We must not miss chances. Once more, we clearly see an important aspect of the challenges facing the democratisation project in the developing world, especially in Africa and in the Arab world. The Mauritanian experience is like building a democratic edifice over the shifting sands of the desert.”

Those backing the move to ban Tawassoul were quick to present their arguments. “Those who oppose dissolving Tawassoul in the name of democracy forget that the party did not hesitate for a moment to deny democracy when the party leaders thought their interests required it,” Mohammad Ishaq Al Kenti, a political analyst and former presidential consultant, said in an op-ed for ‘Al Watan’ newspaper.

“Reversing stances is typical of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood rode the wave of the Arab Spring. In Mauritania, they called for ousting a democratic regime with which they were allied. Their mentor, who used to embrace the president, incited [people] against him,” he said in his article titled “Dissolution is the Solution”.