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Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla
محمد خونا ولد هيداله

In office
4 January 1980 – 12 December 1984
Preceded by Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly
Succeeded by Maaouya Ould Taya

Born 1940
Mauritania Nouakchott, Mauritania
Nationality Mauritania Mauritanian
Religion Sunni Islam

Ret. Col. Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah (Arabic: محمد خونا ولد هيداله‎) (born 1940) was the head of state of Mauritania (Chairman of the Military Committee for National Salvation, CMSN) from 4 January 1980 to 12 December 1984. He was an unsuccessful candidate in the 2003 presidential election and the 2007 presidential election.


Family background and early career

Born in 1940 in the Nouadhibou region (either in then-Spanish Sahara[1] or colonial Mauritania[2]) into a family of the Sahrawi/Moorish Laaroussien tribe, he passed to secondary education in Rosso near the border to French-administered Senegal. He earned a baccalaureat in science in Dakar, Senegal, in 1961. After joining the Mauritanian army in 1962,[3] he studied in French military colleges, notably Saint-Cyr.[2]

After 1975, he commanded forces in the north of Mauritania and Tiris al-Gharbiya (Western Sahara), in the war against Polisario Front guerrillas, notably in the Zouerate region and Bir Moghrein.[3] In 1978, with the country in severe disorder, he participated in a coup d'état that overthrew Mauritanian President Mokhtar Ould Daddah. As a member of the CRMN military junta, he was promoted to the post of Chief of the General Staff.

As head of CMSN

Haidallah became prime minister on 31 May 1979, a few days after the death in an airplane crash of the previous prime minister, Col. Ahmed Ould Bouceif, with whom he had seized power for the CMSN just a month earlier, from Col. Mustafa Ould Salek and the CRMN. In January 1980 he seized power from Ould Salek's successor as head of state, Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly. He continued to also hold the position of Prime Minister until December of that year, when a civilian, Sid Ahmed Ould Bneijara, was appointed to the post.[4]

His reign was marked by severe political turbulence, as Mauritania extracted itself from the war with the Polisario Front — started by Ould Daddah in 1975 — and his regime faced a number of coup attempts and military intrigues.[4][5] On March 16, 1981 a coup attempt against Haidalla failed,[6]. Haidalla accused Morocco of being behind the coup, which Morocco denied, and in the next month Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya was appointed Prime Minister.[4][7] Another attempted coup was allegedly sponsored by Libya.[1]

In March 1984, Haidallah took the office of Prime Minister again, replacing Taya, in a move to strengthen his personal power.[4][8] On December 12, however, Taya ousted Haidallah in a coup while the latter was out of the country. Haidalla had been at a Franco-African Summit in Burundi[9][10] and learned of the coup in Brazzaville, during his return to Mauritania, from Denis Sassou Nguesso, the president of the Republic of the Congo. Haidallah returned to Mauritania anyway and was arrested at the airport in Nouakchott; he was eventually released in December 1988.[10] Taya promised to install democracy, but his rule was considered dictatorial by many; he was deposed by a military coup in 2005.


Foreign policy

Haidallah's main achievement was to make peace with the Western Saharan Polisario Front, which had been fighting Mauritania since it annexed part of the former Spanish colony in 1975. The CMSN opted for complete withdrawal from the conflict, evacuating southern Rio de Oro (which had been annexed as Tiris El Gharbiya) and recognizing the Polisario as the representative of the Sahrawi people. This led to a crisis in relations with the country's until-then ally Morocco, which had similarly annexed the remainder of Western Sahara, with Haidallah's government facing an attempted coup, troop clashes and military tension.[4][11] Relations were completely severed between 1981 and 1985, when they were restored by Haidalla's successor.[12][13] However, relations improved with Polisario's main regional backer, Algeria, with the Algerian government sending arms and supplies to bolster his regime.[1][14] Haidalla's 1984 recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR, the Polisario's government-in-exile) as a sovereign nation appears to have been one of the triggering causes for Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's coup in 1984.[12]

Domestic policy

On the domestic front, his most notable policies were the institution of Islamic sharia law in 1980-83,[15] as well as several failed attempts to rebuild the political system shattered by the 1978 coup — first as a multiparty system, and then, after the first coup attempt against him, as a one-party state.[1][15] It was also during Haidallah's rule that slavery was formally abolished in Mauritania, although the practice continues at a diminished level still today. He made a statement announcing the abolition of slavery in July 1980, and this was followed by a legal decree in November 1981.[16] Political opponents were treated harshly, with imprisonments[17] and those responsible for one of the failed coups against his government were executed.

Activities after losing power

After returning to Mauritania in 1984, Haidallah was held in administrative detention for several years by Ould Taya, during which time he fell sick.[2] After his release, he stayed outside of politics until 2003, when he returned to head the opposition. He then unsuccessfully ran for president against Taya in November, campaigning on a moderately Islamist platform, whereas Taya, who had established full diplomatic ties with Israel, was considered pro-Western. Haidallah officially came in second with about 19% of the vote, although he alleged fraud; he was arrested immediately after the election, accused of plotting a coup.[18] Haidallah had also been briefly detained just prior to the vote.[19][20][21][22] On December 28, 2003 he received a five-year suspended sentence and therefore was set free, but barred from politics for five years.[23] An appeals court confirmed this sentence in April 2004.[24] Also in April, his supporters attempted to register a political party, the Party for Democratic Convergence.[25]

Haidalla was arrested again on November 3, 2004, accused of involvement in coup plots.[26] The prosecutor sought a five-year prison sentence, but he was acquitted on February 3, 2005 at the end of a mass trial of 195 people.[27]

After the 2005 coup

Following a military coup against Taya in August 2005, an amnesty in early September freed Haidallah from his sentence, along with more than a hundred others sentenced for political offenses.[28] On December 27, 2006, Haidalla announced that he would be a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for March 11, 2007.[17] He campaigned on a nationalist-islamist platform, citing the struggle against poverty and slavery as priorities.[17] On February 3, he gained the support of another registered presidential candidate, former opposition politician and prisoner under Ould Taya, Chbih Ould Cheikh Melainine, who dropped out of the race.[29][30]

However, no longer having the political base that came with being the main candidate of the opposition under Ould Taya, Haidallah was even less successful in the 2007 election, coming in tenth place and receiving 1.73% of the vote.[31]

After the election, which was won by Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, Haidalla announced his support for Abdallahi in October 2007.[32] However, following the the coup that ousted Abdallahi in August 2008, Haidalla expressed his support for the coup in a statement on August 29, 2008, saying that it was necessary under the circumstances and urging all Mauritanians to support it. He also criticized the negative reactions of Western governments to the coup, alleging that they were interfering in Mauritanian affairs.[33]


  1. ^ a b c d "Mauritania: Consolidation of Power", Library of Congress Country Studies
  2. ^ a b c (French) "Un ancien président mauritanien en lice pour la Présidentielle", Convergence Républicaine pour l'Instauration de la Democratie en Mauritanie
  3. ^ a b Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah,
  4. ^ a b c d e "Mauritania: The Haidalla Regime", Library of Congress Country Studies
  5. ^ "Mauritanian Group Says It Killed Libyan in Rome", New York Times, September 23, 1984.
  6. ^ "Mauritanian Coup Attempt Fails After Bloody Clashes", Washington Post, March 17, 1981.
  7. ^ "Career Soldier Takes Over As Premier of Mauritania", New York Times, April 27, 1981.
  8. ^ "Mauritania: Political Disintegration", Library of Congress Country Studies
  9. ^ "Mauritania's President Arrested by Coup Leader", UPI, New York Times, December 14, 1984.
  10. ^ a b "Former Mauritanian President Ould Haidalla seeks new term in office", African Press Agency, March 7, 2007.
  11. ^ "Mauritania: The Polisario Problem",
  12. ^ a b "Mauritania: Regional Security Concerns", Library of Congress Country Studies.
  13. ^ "Mauritania: Morocco", Library of Congress Country Studies.
  14. ^ Mauritania: Relations with Other States of the Maghrib, Library of Congress Country Studies
  15. ^ a b "Mauritania: History", Encyclopædia of the Orient
  16. ^ "Mauritania: A future free from slavery?", Amnesty International, November 7, 2002.
  17. ^ a b c "Mauritanian ruler from the 1980s enters post-coup presidential race", International Herald Tribune, December 28, 2006.
  18. ^ "MAURITANIA: Ould Haidallah trial to begin on Monday", IRIN, 27 November 2003.
  19. ^ "Top Mauritanian politician held", BBC News Online, November 9, 2003.
  20. ^ "Mauritania: Fear of ill-treatment or torture / Incommunicado detention / Medical concern", Amnesty International, 14 November 2003
  21. ^ "Charges for Mauritania candidate", BBC News Online, November 10, 2003.
  22. ^ "Peaceful election, but opposition cries foul", IRIN, November 7, 2003.
  23. ^ "Haidalla walks free with suspended sentence", IRIN, December 29, 2003.
  24. ^ "Opposition leader stripped of political rights as putchists prepare to face trial", IRIN, April 22, 2004.
  25. ^ "Mauritania: Haidalla supporters create new opposition party", IRIN, April 7, 2004.
  26. ^ "Mauritania: Three opposition leaders arrested in connection with coup plots", IRIN, November 4, 2004.
  27. ^ "Mauritania: Coup plotters get life in prison but escape death sentence", IRIN, February 3, 2005.
  28. ^ "Political exiles flocking back to Mauritania", Middle East Online, September 12, 2005.
  29. ^ "Ch'Bih Ould Cheikh Melainine retire sa candidature à la présidentielle de mars 2007", Agence Mauritanienne d'Information, February 3, 2007 (French).
  30. ^ "Nouvelle coalition de parti et Ould Cheikh Melainine se retire en faveur de Ould Haidalla", Convergence Républicaine pour l'Instauration de la Democratie en Mauritanie, February 3, 2007 (French).
  31. ^ "Le conseil constitutionnel proclame les résultats du premier tour de l'élection présidentielles du 11 mars 2007", Agence Mauritanienne d'Information, March 15, 2007 (French).
  32. ^ "Former Mauritanian leader pledges support for current president", African Press Agency, October 25, 2007.
  33. ^ "L’ancien président Ould Haidalla défend le nouveau pouvoir en Mauritanie", African Press Agency, August 29, 2008 (French).
Political offices
Preceded by
Ahmed Salim Ould Sidi
Prime Minister of Mauritania
Succeeded by
Sid Ahmed Ould Bneijara
Preceded by
Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly
President of Mauritania
Succeeded by
Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya
Preceded by
Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya
Prime Minister of Mauritania
Succeeded by
Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya


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