El Mouthena, committed social mediator

Social mediator since May 2020 within Bordeaux Metropole, El Mouthena is definitely a personality out of the ordinary with an atypical background and an unfailing commitment. Meet this young Sarahoui.

On her Facebook profile, El Mouthena states her motto “Don’t lose hope. Don’t wait for a miracle. Get up and take action and never forget to smile. Everything is said and with him, everything seems simple. However, his life so far has been made up of many complications and a few twists and turns!

A life full of twists and turns

His name first “El Mouthena” became Moa “easier to pronounce for friends”, then Mao “yet I am not a communist! Then his birth: in Nouakchott in Mauritania but “of Sahrawi nationality”. He insists on this point: he comes from Western Sahara. This claim alone is already political. This territory in North-West Africa is not considered an “autonomous” country according to the UN (United Nations Organisation) and is claimed by both Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Political instability, repression, migration crises… It is in this context that El Mouthena / Mao arrived in Europe in 2012.

From the Netherlands to Bordeaux

After many adventures in Italy, Spain and Germany, he applied for asylum in the Netherlands. Asylum that will not be granted. However, El Mouthena / Mao militates for a better reception of migrants, notably within the organization Wij Zijn Hier that he co-founded in Amsterdam. Their slogan? “We are here for our right to exist”. El Mouthena and his friends organise demonstrations, make their voices heard by elected officials and on social networks. This activism is not seen in a positive light by everyone, and El Mouthena/Mao feels threatened and prefers to leave the Netherlands. “I had a lot of contacts all over Europe! You can’t imagine! I chose France because I had friends in Loudun. In this small village near Poitiers, he stayed for a month and a half before heading for Bordeaux. His Brussels relations told him about the existence of a small Sahrawi community that speaks Hassanya. “It had been six years since I had spoken my language. That’s all it takes for the young man to reach the capital of New Aquitaine.

In Bordeaux, he lives in squats, militates and is on the verge of eviction. “600 to 700 people supported me, the courtroom was packed. I also had political support, like that of the President of the General Council. In the end I was not expelled”, he smiles. So it was in Bordeaux that El Mouthena / Mao officially requested asylum in 2015. When asked if he considers himself a political refugee or an economic refugee, he brushes aside the difference “they are all the same. They all know they are going to die.

From Sciences-Po to volunteering

While waiting for the answer to his asylum request, which he will eventually obtain, El Mouthena / Mao decides to train and spends seven months on the benches of Politic Science Institut. At the same time, in 2016, he created DEMHA, an association to help people with social and integration difficulties, particularly in the areas of training and food. “I had the feeling, that here in France, people looked at me as someone useful. I had contacts in the town halls, especially with the elected officials, in the associations with which I worked or did volunteer work. Among them: Médecins du monde, Récup’R and Le Samovar. “My interlocutors spoke to me about their problems, the cultural difficulties of dialogue, the fights in the squats, and I naturally mediated. I was told that I would make a good social mediator. I didn’t really understand what that meant until a friend explained it to me.

Mediator or inner peace

He was finally hired as a mediator in Bordeaux Metropole as part of an experiment. “I applied at least six times before I was accepted,” he explains with a laugh. Anyway, here he is in the field in the Saint-Michel district of Bordeaux, working with unaccompanied minors and young adults living on the streets. He masters French, Arabic, Hassanya and English, and has no difficulty exchanging with them “in a friendly manner, while respecting the rules of ethics”, says the man who says he has learned as much from the street as from his lawyer friends.

From Saint-Michel, he then moved to the Benauge district in La Bastide. It doesn’t matter where he lives, because it’s a job he loves and he loves helping people. For a few months, he has also been developing his interpreting services, particularly with refugees, for structures such as the CHU (University Hospital Centre), the Fundation COS Alexandre Glasberg or the CADA (Commission for access to administrative documents).

“From my own life experience, my voluntary activities and my work as an interpreter for refugees traumatised by war, I have built up a personal resilience. There, at home, it is war, but I have understood that joy is obtained through inner peace. The most important thing is not what you see on the outside, it’s what you feel inside.

We understand better the motto of El Mouthena / Mao posted on Facebook: “Do not lose hope. Don’t wait for a miracle. Stand up and take action and never forget to smile.

The Laba

August 2021



“My interlocutors told me about their problems, about the cultural difficulties of dialogue, about the fights in the squats, and naturally I was the mediator. I was told that I would make a good social mediator. I didn’t really understand what that meant until a friend explained it to me.

“The most important thing is not what you see on the outside, it’s what you feel inside.