officially Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Country, North Africa.
It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. Area: 398,000 sq mi (1,030,700 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 2,656,000. Capital: Nouakchott. The Moors (of mixed Arab-Berber and Sudanic descent) constitute the great majority of the population. Languages: Arabic (official), Fulani, Soninke, Wolof (all national). Religion: Islam (official). Currency: ouguiya. Most of Mauritania is made up of low-lying desert that forms the extreme western part of the Sahara. Only a tiny fraction of its land is arable, but almost two-fifths is suitable for grazing, and the herding of goats, sheep, and camels occupies a significant portion of the largely nomadic population. Ocean fishing and iron ore production are major sources of revenue. Mauritania is a republic with two legislative houses; its head of state and government is the president, who is assisted by the prime minister. Inhabited in ancient times by Sanhaja Berbers, in the 11th–12th centuries it was the centre of the Berber Almoravid dynasty, which imposed Islam on many of the neighbouring peoples. Arab tribes arrived in the 15th century and formed several powerful confederations: Trarza and Brakna, which dominated the Sénégal River region; Kunta in the east; and Rigaibat in the north. The Portuguese arrived in the 15th century. France gained control of the coastal region in the Senegal treaty of 1817, and in 1903 a formal French protectorate was extended over the territory. In 1904 it was added to French West Africa, and in 1920 it became a colony. In 1960 Mauritania achieved independence and left the French Community. The country's first president, Moktar Ould Daddah, was ousted in a coup in 1978, and a military government was established. In 1980 a civilian government was set up, and in 1991 a new constitution was adopted. During the 1990s relations between the government and opposition groups deteriorated, although there was some success in liberalizing the economy.
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