The country is almost entirely Muslim, mostly Sunnis. Arabic is the official language, but French is also used as well as a few local languages. The capital is Nouakchott.
Mauritania became independent in 1960. With independence, a large number of ethnic sub-Saharans moved to Mauritania. In the late 60s the government attempted to make Arab culture dominant, which created tension between different groups including White Moors, Black Moors, and Arabs, Berbers, and Blacks. Conflicts between groups continue today based on unequal access to power, government, education, and land.
Mauritania was under military rule from 1978 to 1992. Political parties were illegal under the military rule, but were legalized in 1991. In 1993, president Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya was elected. He took a pro-western stand in foreign affairs. A coup in 2005 ended President’s Taya’s rule. Presidential elections in 2007 marked a move towards democracy. However, it was short-lived, as another coup followed a year later. Politics in Mauritania continue to be heavily influenced by the military.
Al-Qaeda operatives have become increasingly active in Mauritania, kidnapping and killing several foreigners. Mauritania is taking an increasingly tough response against these attacks.