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Mauritania - History

At the crossroads of the Arab North and sub-Saharan Africa, Mauritania is a vast but sparsely populated country of some 3 million inhabitants whose capital Nouakchott (population: approximately 1 million) is on the Atlantic coast of Africa. Ancient cities in the interior were important Saharan trade centers from the Ghana Empire through the expansion of Arab civilization and into modern times. The largest of these, Chinguetti, is the seventh-holiest site in Islam.

From the 3rd to 7th 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. Continued Arab-Berber migration drove indigenous black Africans south to the Senegal River or enslaved them. By 1076, Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) completed the conquest of southern Mauritania, defeating the ancient Ghana empire.

Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. Mauritania formed part of the Islamic religious Almoravid state, which subjugated Ghana, Morocco and western Algeria and dominated Muslim Spain until the mid 12th century. The strength of Islam in Mauritania dates from those times. Between the 13th -15th centuries Mauritania was invaded by Maqil Bedouin tribes.

The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final Berber effort to repel the Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of 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. Hassaniya, a mainly oral, Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan tribe, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population. Within Moorish society, aristocratic and servant classes developed, yielding "white" (aristocracy) and "black" Moors (the enslaved indigenous class).

European colonization came relatively late to Mauritania, which at its independence from France in 1960 was still administered from St. Louis, Senegal. From the 15th century the Portuguese and Spanish established trading settlements on the coast. They were followed by the French who first set up posts along the Senegal river but later gained control of the coastal region, and in 1903 incorporated Mauritania into the French West Africa protectorate.

French colonization at the beginning of the 20th century brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but sedentary black Africans, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier by the Moors, began to trickle back into southern Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city of Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village. Nouakchott, was a small outpost midway between that city and Port Etienne, now called Nouadhibou, Mauritania’s commercial capital. At independence, much of the country’s population followed a nomadic lifestyle or worked in agriculture in remote areas mostly untouched by colonial administration. Ninety percent of the population was still nomadic. With independence, larger numbers of ethnic Sub-Saharan Africans (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state.

Moors reacted to this change by trying to Arabicize much of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those who considered Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who sought a dominant role for the Sub-Saharan peoples. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the "1989 Events").

Mauritania, a French colony, gained independence in September 1960. Moktar Ould Daddah, Prime Minister since the parliamentary elections in June 1959, became President of the Republic in August 1961. His People's Party of Mauritania became a single party in January 1965.

Moktar Ould Daddah pursues a policy of asserting the Arab identity of the country: Arabic becomes the language of education in January 1965 and then official language in the same way as French in March 1968, a law on Arabization is promulgated In January 1966, Mauritania joined the Arab League in November 1973. Mauritania has also been a founding member of the Organization of African Unity since May 1963.

At the same time, he decided to engage the country in Western Sahara. In November 1975, Spain, Mauritania and Morocco signed an agreement providing for the division of this territory between the two African states as the colonial power withdraws. But in February 1976, the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y Río de Oro proclaimed an independent republic there. From then on, the Saharawi guerrilla forces attacked Mauritania, including the capital Nouakchott in June 1976.

It was in this context that Moktar Ould Daddah was overthrown by a bloodless coup d'état in July 1978. A Military National Recovery Committee, led by Colonel Mustapha Ould Salek, seized power and dissolved the Parliament and the People of Mauritania.

Mustapha Ould Salek was dismissed in April 1979 as a result of internal rivalries in the army, including a relationship with Morocco, which was replaced by a dyarchy of Lieutenant-Colonel Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly and Colonel Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah.

The latter acceded in January 1980 to the presidency of the Republic, which he accumulated with the function of Prime Minister that he already occupied. Two gestures mark his mandate: the official abolition of slavery in July 1980 and recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in February 1984.

Mauritania was under military rule from 1978 to 1992, when the country's first multi-party elections were held following the July 1991 approval by referendum of a constitution. The Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDS), led by President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, dominated Mauritanian politics from April 1992 until he was overthrown in August 2005.

This latest decision provoked new turmoil within the army, which led to the seizure of power by Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya, formerly Chief of Staff, in December 1984.

It had to face the discontent of the Negro-Africans of Mauritania, a part of which was constituted in Liberation Forces of the Africans of Mauritania. They denounce the discrimination faced by African-Americans in a Moorish-dominated state, which is more anchored in the Arab world by participating in the creation of the Arab Maghreb Union in February 1989.

In October 1987 a number of high-ranking black Mauritanians were arrested or dismissed from their positions on the grounds of complicity in a "planned coup. Fifty-one individuals were convicted (18 November 1987): three were given the death penalty) eighteen, life at hard labor) nine," twenty years at hard labor; and the rest, lesser sentences. This led to the purging of virtually all black Mauritanians from the military.

In April 1989 a brawl between Senegalese peasants and Mauritanian pastors in the Senegal River valley degenerated into a border conflict and caused riots in Dakar and Nouakchott. The crisis caused several hundred deaths and 300,000 refugees and caused the relations between the two countries to break.

In April 1991, Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya announced the revival of the democratization process, which led to the adoption of a new constitution in July 1991, making the passage of Arabic the only official language, A presidential election in January 1992 and parliamentary elections in March 1992. These were won by Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya and his Republican Democratic and Social Party against Ahmed Ould Daddah and his Union of Democratic Forces. The Military Committee of National Salvation which had governed the country since April 1979 was dissolved.

The president was re-elected during the presidential elections of December 1997 and November 2003. He was overthrown in August 2005 by a military junta, including generals Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Mohamed Ould Ghazouani and Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall Director of National Security.

On November 7, 2003, Mauritania's third presidential election since adopting the democratic process in 1992 took place. Incumbent President Taya was reelected. Several opposition groups alleged that the government had used fraudulent means to win the elections, but did not elect to pursue their grievances via available legal channels. The elections incorporated safeguards first adopted in 2001 municipal elections--published voter lists and hard-to-falsify voter identification cards.

On August 3, 2005, President Maaouya Ould Taya was deposed in a bloodless coup. Military officers, led by first cousins and tribesmen Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall and Colonel Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, staged a coup while President Taya was attending the funeral of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. Colonel Vall established the ruling Military Council for Justice and Democracy, a military organ responsible for running the country. The council dissolved the Parliament and appointed a transitional government, which quickly adopted a timetable for the establishment of democratic rule within 2 years that led to successful parliamentary elections in November 2006, and free and transparent presidential elections in March 2007. A constitutional referendum was held in June 2006, opening a complete electoral cycle: legislative and municipal elections in November 2006, senatorial elections in January 2007 and finally presidential elections in March 2007. Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was elected head of state with 53 % Of votes against Ahmed Ould Daddah. The new democratically elected government under President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi--the first in 29 years--was inaugurated on April 19, 2007.

On August 6, 2008, President Abdallahi was overthrown in a bloodless coup. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz seized power after President Abdallahi issued a decree dismissing General Aziz and three other senior military officers. The country was officially run for 8 months by a 12-member High State Council (HSC) composed entirely of military officers.

For the first time in the history of Mauritania, the coup encountered considerable opposition both nationally and internationally. After several months of political crisis, the government and opposition, partly regrouped in a National Front for the Defense of Democracy, signed an agreement in June 2009 providing for the organization of pluralistic presidential elections.

On April 15, 2009, Aziz resigned from the government and the army and announced his presidential candidacy for elections on June 6, 2009, which were boycotted by main opposition leaders and ultimately rescheduled. A Government of National Unity was instituted on June 27, 2009, followed by President Abdallahi's voluntary resignation in compliance with the Dakar Accord negotiated under the aegis of Senegalese President Wade, the African Union, and an International Contact Group and signed on June 4. Aziz scored a first-round victory in elections organized on July 18. The results of those elections were recognized by the international community, and President Aziz was inaugurated on August 5, 2009.

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Page last modified: 06-08-2017 17:55:16 ZULU