(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)
|Introduction||Independent from France in 1960, Mauritania annexed the southern third of the former Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) in 1976, but relinquished it after three years of raids by the Polisario guerrilla front seeking independence for the territory. Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed TAYA seized power in a coup in 1984 and ruled Mauritania with a heavy hand for over two decades. A series of presidential elections that he held were widely seen as flawed. A bloodless coup in August 2005 deposed President TAYA and ushered in a military council that oversaw a transition to democratic rule. Independent candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh ABDALLAHI was inaugurated in April 2007 as Mauritania’s first freely and fairly elected president. The country continues to experience ethnic tensions among its black population (Afro-Mauritanians) and White and Black Moor (Arab-Berber) communities, although the new government is attempting to ameliorate some of these tensions.|
|History||From the fifth to seventh centuries, the migration of Berber tribes from North Africa displaced the Bafours, the original inhabitants of present-day Mauritania and the ancestors of the Soninke. The Bafours were primarily agriculturalist, and among the first Saharan people to abandon their historically nomadic lifestyle. With the gradual desiccation of the Sahara, they headed south. Following them came a migration of not only Central Saharans into West Africa, but in 1076, Moorish Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) attacked and conquered the ancient Ghana Empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce resistance from the local population (Berber and non-Berber alike) and came to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final effort to repel the Yemeni Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of the Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Berbers retained influence by producing the majority of the region’s Marabouts—those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition. Many of the Berber tribes claimed Yemeni (and sometimes other Arab) origin: there is little evidence to suggest this, though some studies do make a connection between the two.  Hassaniya, a Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population.
French colonization gradually absorbed the territories of present-day Mauritania from the Senegal river area and upwards, starting in the late 1800s. In 1901, Xavier Coppolani took charge of the colonial mission. Through a combination of strategic alliances with Zawiya tribes and military pressure on the Hassane warrior nomads, he managed to extend French rule over the Mauritanian emirates: Trarza, Brakna and Tagant quickly submitted to treaties with the colonial power (1903-04), but the northern emirate of Adrar held out longer, aided by the anticolonial rebellion (or jihad) of shaykh Maa al-Aynayn. It was finally defeated militarily in 1912, and incorporated into the territory of Mauritania, which had been drawn up in 1904. Mauritania would subsequently form part of French West Africa, from 1920.
French rule brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but many sedentary peoples, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier, began to trickle back into Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village, the Ksar, while 90% of the population was still nomadic. With independence, larger numbers of indigenous Sub-Saharan African peoples (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French language and customs, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state. This, occurring as France militarily suppressed the most intransigent hassane tribes of the Moorish north, shifted old balances of power, and created new cause for conflict between the southern populations and Moors. Between these groups stood the Haratin, a very large population of Arabized slaves, who lived within Moorish society, integrated into a low-caste social position. Modern day slavery is still a common practice in this country.
Moors reacted to the change, and to Arab nationalist calls from abroad, by increasing pressure to Arabize many aspects of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those Moors who consider Mauritania to be an Arab country and those who seek a dominant role for the non-Moorish peoples, with various models for containing the country’s cultural diversity suggested, but none implemented successfully. This ethnic discord was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the “1989 Events” and “Mauritania-Senegal Border War”), but has since subsided. The ethnic tension and the sensitive issue of slavery – past and, in some areas, present – is still a powerful theme in the country’s political debate. A significant number from all groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society.
|Geography||Location: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Senegal and Western Sahara
Geographic coordinates: 20 00 N, 12 00 W
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 1,030,700 sq km
land: 1,030,400 sq km
water: 300 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly larger than three times the size of New Mexico
Land boundaries: total: 5,074 km
border countries: Algeria 463 km, Mali 2,237 km, Senegal 813 km, Western Sahara 1,561 km
Coastline: 754 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
Climate: desert; constantly hot, dry, dusty
Terrain: mostly barren, flat plains of the Sahara; some central hills
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Sebkhet Te-n-Dghamcha -5 m
highest point: Kediet Ijill 915 m
Natural resources: iron ore, gypsum, copper, phosphate, diamonds, gold, oil, fish
Land use: arable land: 0.2%
permanent crops: 0.01%
other: 99.79% (2005)
Irrigated land: 490 sq km (2002)
Total renewable water resources: 11.4 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 1.7 cu km/yr (9%/3%/88%)
per capita: 554 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind blows primarily in March and April; periodic droughts
Environment – current issues: overgrazing, deforestation, and soil erosion aggravated by drought are contributing to desertification; limited natural fresh water resources away from the Senegal, which is the only perennial river; locust infestation
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: most of the population concentrated in the cities of Nouakchott and Nouadhibou and along the Senegal River in the southern part of the country
|Politics||Politics in Mauritania have always been determined by personalities and tribes more than ideologies, with any leader’s ability to exercise political power dependent upon control over resources; perceived ability and integrity; and tribal, ethnic, family, and personal considerations. Conflict between white Moor, black Moor (Haratine), and non-Moor ethnic groups (Haal Pulaars, Soninkes, Wolofs and Bambaras), centering on language, land tenure, and other issues, continues to be the dominant challenge to national unity.
The government bureaucracy is composed of traditional ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior spearheads a system of regional governors and prefects modeled on the French system of local administration. Under this system, Mauritania is divided into thirteen regions (wilaya), including the capital district, Nouakchott. Control is tightly concentrated in the executive branch of the central government, but a series of national and municipal elections since 1992 have produced some limited decentralization.
Mauritania, along with Morocco, annexed the territory of Western Sahara in 1976, with Mauritania taking the lower one-third at the request of former colonial power, Spain. After several military losses to Polisario, heavily armed and supported by Algeria, the local hegemon and rival to Morocco, Mauritania retreated in 1979, and its claims were taken over by Morocco. Due to economic weakness, Mauritania has been a negligible player in the territorial dispute, with its official position being that it wishes for an expedient solution that is mutually agreeable to all parties. While most of the former Spanish or Western Sahara has been woven into Morocco, the UN still considers the Western Sahara a territory that needs to express its wishes with respect to statehood: a referendum is still supposed to be held sometimes in the future, under UN auspices, to determine whether the “saharaouis” wish to remain part of Morocco or not. The Moroccan authorities, on their part, wish the saharaouis to remain part of Morocco and, as such, have made significant investments in the area.
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy signed an agreement in Washington DC, USA on October 28th,1999, establishing full diplomatic relations with Mauritania, an Islamic country and a member of the Arab League.
The signing ceremony was held at the U.S. State Department in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – who invited the Israeli Foreign Minister and his Mauritanian counterpart, Ahmed Sid’Ahmed, to sign the agreement in Washington DC. The United States of America views this important development as a product of, among other things, the September 24th,1999, New York City meeting initiated by the United States of America, and attended by the Foreign Ministers of Israel, Mauritania and a series of other Arab states.
Earlier this year, Israel announced its first project in Mauritania, an eye clinic operated by the Foreign Ministry’s Center for International Cooperation (MASHAV).
Both Israel and the United States view the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Mauritania as a milestone in the promotion of normalization, which is widely seen as the goal of the peace process which has evolved since the Madrid Conference. Mauritania joins Egypt and Jordan as the only members of the Arab League to post ambassadors in Israel. The Israeli Foreign Ministry will continue to work for the development and strengthening of Israel’s relations with other countries in the region. On February 1, 2008 at least one gunman opened fire on the Israeli embassy, injuring at least three people 
On 31 January (2008) Permanent representative of Republic of Armenia to the United Nations (New York) Armen Martirosyan has signed a protocol with Abderahim Ould Hadrami (Mauritanian representative to UN) in New York establishing full diplomatic relations with Mauritania.
The discovery of oil in 2001 in the offshore Chinguetti deposit will be a test for the current government since, according to human rights activists, it can be a blessing for one of the poorest countries in the world as well as a curse bringing corruption and violence to the country.
|People||Population: 3,364,940 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 45.3% (male 763,845/female 759,957)
15-64 years: 52.5% (male 872,924/female 894,980)
65 years and over: 2.2% (male 29,147/female 44,087) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 17.2 years
male: 16.9 years
female: 17.4 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.852% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 40.14 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 11.61 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.66 male(s)/female
total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 66.65 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 69.69 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 63.52 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 53.91 years
male: 51.61 years
female: 56.28 years (2008 est.)