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A western African republic characterized since colonial times by ethnic tensions, between a well-educated Black minority and an underprivileged majority of Moors (a Muslim people of north-west Africa).

Contemporary history (1900–1980s)

Mauretania came under French influence after 1900. It became part of French West Africa in 1920, though heavy Arab resistance to French colonial rule was not suppressed until 1934. A French Overseas Territory since 1946, it received autonomy within the French Community in 1958, and was granted independence on 28 November 1960.

Mauretania was governed by the Parti du Peuple Mauritanien (PPM, Mauretanian People's Party) under President Mokhtar Ould Daddah (b. 1924, d. 2003). In 1976 Mauretania occupied the southern half of Western Sahara, with Morocco occupying the north. However, its limited resources were overstretched by the costs of the occupation, during which the size of its army increased tenfold. Its fragile economy ground to a halt, weakened further by attacks from the West Saharan guerrilla movement, POLISARIO. Mauretanian forces were compelled to withdraw from Western Sahara in 1979, though their retreat was also partly precipitated by a military coup which had deposed Daddah in 1978.

The Taya era (1984–2005)

After a period of political instability, power passed to Maaonya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya (b. 1945) in 1984. He managed to stabilize the political system, but failed to reduce the ethnic tensions between the Black minority and the Moors. Sporadic violence erupted, and in 1990 a group of Black Mauretanians staged an abortive coup against the government. As many as 100,000 Black Mauretanians (5 per cent of the population) fled into neighbouring Senegal that year. The President introduced a constitution in 1991 and elections in 1992. These were boycotted by the opposition parties, and Maaonya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya was confirmed as President. During the 1990s Mauretania's relations to its neighbours, especially Senegal, worsened, and in 1999 the government announced its intention to withdraw from ECOWAS.

Contemporary politics (since 2005)

In 2005, Taya was deposed in a coup led by the head of the secret service, Ely Ould Mohammed Vall. Vall devised a number of constitutional changes, including the limitation of the President's terms of office, and promised elections within two years. Vall affirmed his country's friendship with the USA and Israel, though his key challenge consisted in reducing poverty in one of Africa's poorest countries.

Subjects: Classical Studies — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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