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The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a Northwest African country bordered on its western border by the Atlantic Ocean, and elsewhere by Algeria, Mali, Senegal, and Western Sahara.

Mauritania is mostly flat, and about three-quarters of the country is desert or semi-desert, and the desertification of the country is continuing. Its coastline is bleak and mostly empty. Banc d'Arguin National Park takes up a large portion of its northern coast. Just north of the national park is Nouadhibou, Mauritania's second-largest city. South of the park, the coastline is empty until you get to Nouakchott, in the lower part of the country. Nouakchott is also the largest, by far, and the capital city of Mauritania. Given its deepwater port and two international airports, Nouakchott is the hub of the country's economy.

Mauritania's other three largest cities, Rosso, Adel Bagrou, and Boghé, are inland and nine times smaller than Nouakchott.

The people of Mauritania is made up of Haratin, Bidhan, and various West Africans groups. The Haratin comprise about 40% of the population, and are largely descendants of former slaves. Also known as Moors, the Bidhan account for about 30% of the population, and are of mixed Arab and Berber origin. The other 30% of the population are divided between various ethnic groups, mostly of West African origins, such as the Bambara, Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof.

Pretty much everyone in Mauritania is Muslim, with the Sunni faction being the largest. There are severe restrictions on religion in Mauritania. Roman Catholics in Mauritania are foreign workers, and atheism is punishable by the death penalty.

The country's official language is Modern Standard Arabic, but Hassaniya Arabic, Pulaar, Soninke, and Wolof are also spoken. French may be spoken by the educated class and the media. The use of English in the schools is increasing, but remains a minority language.

School attendance in Mauritania is compulsory between the age of six and fourteen. Public schools are tuition-free, but the expense of books, writing material, and other costs make education difficult for children of poor families. In rural areas, schools might also be too far away, and travel dangerous.

The original inhabitants of what is now Mauritania were the Bafour. Berbers moved to the region in the 3rd century and afterward, and Mauritania was named for the ancient kingdom of the Berbers and Roman province of Mauretania.

Islam came to Mauritania gradually, beginning in the early 11th century, and the Europeans weren't particularly interested in Mauritania except for its port, and as a connection between its other possessions on the continent. Mauritania did become part of French West Africa in 1904, but French control was limited to the coast and the Saharan trade routes, and some parts of the region never saw the French.

The country achieved independence from France as the Republic of Mauritania in 1960. At the time of its independence, the capital city, Nouakchott, was a small village, and 90% of the country's population was nomadic.

Soon after independence, large numbers of people from other parts of Africa moved to the area and soon dominated its government. This led to hostilities, and a push for Arabization.

In 1975, Mauritania annexed the southern part of the former Spanish Sahara, now known as Western Sahara. However, a coup ousted the president, who was exiled to France, and the new government ceded the land to Morocco.

Following decades, up to the present, have seen political violence and protests, contested elections, attempted coups, and coups, as well as a border dispute with Senegal.

Today, Mauritania is an Islamic republic with no provisions for freedom of religion. International monitors have accused its government of having a disregard for legal procedure, fair trials, or humane treatment of prisoners, including the use of torture. The press, however, is relatively free from government interference, although journalists may practice self-censorship when reporting on topics such as the military, corruption, or the application of Shari'a law.

There are no government restrictions on access to the Internet, and online sources have served as a primary means of information for many in Mauritania. Access is available in urban areas, with home access for those who can afford it, while Internet cafes and cellular access may serve those who cannot afford a home connection. There have been reports of government blocking of selected political sites, however.

The Mauritania constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but this has not always been the case in practice. Large meetings require a permit, and permits are not always granted. Of course, this has been true in Western nations, as well.



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