Islamic scholar and head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars Ignites Maghreb with Statements about Sahara and Mauritania

The statements made by Ahmed Raissouni, president of the so-called “World Union of Muslim Scholars”, about what he called the “wrong existence of Mauritania” and the dispute over the Moroccan Sahara, set off a wave of widespread anger in northwest Africa, causing a clash between the arms of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Maghreb countries that seek to prove their “patriotism” to governments and peoples through a pivotal issue in the region.

Although the Qatar-based “International Union of Muslim Scholars” was quick to disavow Raissouni’s statements, the attempt did not find success, but the condemnation widened to the point of demanding the dismissal of the scholar, who was elected in 2018 as new head, succeeding the controversial preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.

Details of the Case

The controversy began with the widespread circulation of clips from a conversation that a local Moroccan news site conducted with Raissouni on July 29. This was after the Moroccan preacher during his interview on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara considered that the existence of Mauritania is a “mistake”,and that Morocco “must return as it was before the European invasion”.

Raissouni pointed out that Mauritania “is part of Morocco,” adding that „scientists, preachers and the Moroccan people are ready to wage jihad with money and soul and participate in a march similar to the Green March and March by Millions to the Sahara and the Algerian Tindouf region, if the Moroccan monarch requests it.“ Raissouni was surprised that “brotherly Arab and Islamic countries are involved in supporting and adopting this colonial industry“, referring to Algeria, which in his view has fueled the Sahara conflict.

After the great controversy he raised over the past days, Raissouni was forced to clarify his statements by claiming that his words were taken out of context, saying that “his speech came in a historical context and has nothing to do with the current situation”. He said in a statement to the Moroccan website “Al-Youm 24”: “I was expressing my opinions with the logic of history, Sharia and civilization, while they were responding to me with political logic and political positions”.

The preacher stressed that his statements “did not carry any dimensions or political calculations,” adding that he would be „ free from any political position, and I do not have any relationship with office stakeholders”.

Raissouni also published on his website on August 17, “clarifications about my recent statements on the Sahara and Maghreb relations,” in which he stated that he „called for allowing Moroccan scholars and preachers, and all Moroccans, to cross to the city of Tindouf and its camps, to communicate and dialogue with their Moroccan-Sahrawi brothers detained there, about the unity and brotherhood that unites us, and about the absurdity of the separatist project, for which the Polisario Front is fighting, supported and directed by the Algerian army”. He claimed that in the aforementioned dialogue, “it was oral and spontaneous, and sometimes it was a brief incomplete statement, which opened the door to speculations, explanations and interpretations that did not occur to me, whether intentionally or unintentionally”.

The International Union of Muslim Scholars reacts

It seems that Raissouni’s recent statements and his political position on a controversial issue have put the International Union of Muslim Scholars in a predicament, as the Union took the initiative to evade the statements of its president. Its Secretary-General Ali Al-Qara Daghi said that it does not represent the opinion of Muslim scholars and added that “the Constitution of the International Union of Muslim scholars states that the opinion assigned to the union is the opinion that is agreed, signed by the president and the secretary-general after advice, and then issued on behalf of the Union”.

“The interviews or articles of the president or the Secretary General express the opinion of the speaker only, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the federation“, he stressed.

However, the World Federation’s disavowal of the statements of its president was not enough, as demands rose in Mauritania that he should be removed from his post and an official apology should be made after the abuse he directed to Mauritania.

Algerian-Moroccan relations have been strained for decades over the issue of Western Sahara in particular, and the border between the two neighbors has been closed since 1994.

Mauritania’s response

After days of partisan and popular anger, the Mauritanian government broke its silence to respond forcefully to Raissouni and his union, affiliated with the internationally active Muslim Brotherhood organization.

During the weekly press conference after the cabinet meeting, government spokesman Mohamed Maa El-Enein Ould Ayeh said on August 17 that Raissouni’s statements regarding Mauritania were “deplored and condemned”. Ould Ayeh said that the statements” are not based on any source that could give them credibility”, stressing that they are “against the evidence of history and international laws”.

He also stressed that it is ”far from everything that would spread reassurance and achieve respect for the other“, pointing out that the author of this speech did not say it until he “disowned any cloak that indicates wisdom and credibility”.

Before the official position, the Mauritanian Scientists ‘Association condemned Raissouni’s irresponsible statements, calling them “suspicious, unfriendly and provocative”.

“These kinds of calls encroach on the sovereignty of our country and do not satisfy the Muslim Brotherhood in Morocco, we consider the owner of it in Mauritania,” the commission added.

At the popular level, angry reactions overshadowed the discussions of Mauritanians on social media. Former minister and politician Sidi Mohamed Ould Mouham wrote: “What was said by Raissouni is not worth responding, because the man does not represent an important official or legal weight in Morocco”.

“The existence of Mauritania is a historical fact,” he added, noting that it is also “a fact that is based today on the ground by virtue of international legitimacy and the efforts and sacrifices of its people, and we do not beg for recognition from anyone,” as he put it.

“The real historical mistake is the presence of a man with such a small mind at the head of a (scientific) body who does not know the simplest alphabets of history and the nearest and most stubborn facts of geography“,Ould-Moham concluded.

He stressed that “no matter what, the Muslim Brotherhood’s relations with the official and popular Morocco will remain stronger, and these “resonances” will not affect them as they were not affected by the illusions of Alal Fassi or the February superstitions,” he said.

The arms of the Muslim Brotherhood enter the stage

After Raissouni’s statements turned into a” trend ” in the Maghreb countries, the local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to lead the scene through positions reflecting their alleged patriotism, so their positions were in line with the official discourse of their governments, although these groups do not originally believe in national borders as expressed in their literature.

The National Rally for Reform and Development (Tawasul) party, the political arm of the Brotherhood in Mauritania, called in a comment to withdraw from the statements immediately and apologize for them openly and publicly. The party said that Raissouni’s statement “carried inappropriate phrases, absolute judgments far from accuracy, unfound information, and inappropriate and unacceptable abuse to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and its people”.

In Algeria, the Movement for a Peaceful Society (Hamas), the most prominent arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, described the statements as a “serious and resounding fall”, and accused Raissouni of “exploiting his position in the international scientific body that he heads, which it seems that he will turn into an arena of sedition and strife between Muslims”.

On the other hand, Abdelali Hamieddine, a member of the general secretariat of the Moroccan Justice and Development Party (Muslim Brotherhood), said that the campaign against Raissouni “proves the fragility of the separatist proposal and the fragility of the foundations on which it is based regarding the Sahara issue”. He considered that what Raissouni, “does not bear any official or unofficial responsibility in Morocco, and it is an opinion that is neither new nor surprising, but what is new is this senseless campaign, in which reason and wisdom were absent on the part of those who are supposed to enjoy it”.

Hamiddin pointed out that that Mauritanian scholars and dignitaries gave allegiance to the Kings of Morocco at certain historical stages, and that Morocco was extending its sovereignty over Mauritania “does not mean demanding today the restoration of a sovereign state, which Morocco has already recognized in the late sixties of the last century, and this was confirmed by Raissouni himself in the dialogue”.

“My opinion is that there was no need to involve Mauritania in the issue,” Hamiddin concluded.


توضيحات من الدكتور أحمد الريسوني حول تصريحاته الأخيرة عن الصحراء والعلاقات المغاربية

حقوق النشر والطبع ورقياً والكترونياً محفوظة لصالح مركز أبحاث ودراسات مينا.