Since the 4th century AD, Berbers immigrated from the north into present-day Mauritania and were Islamized in the 11th century. After the collapse of the Almoravid Empire (1147), the northern part of the country remained loosely dependent on Morocco, the southern part belonged to the Mali Empire. In 1448/49 the Portuguese built Fort Arguin on the Baie du Lévrier. Spanish, Dutch and British branches on the Mauritanian coast followed. After 1900, France conquered what is now Mauritania to round off its colonial holdings in North and West Africa and incorporated it into French West Africa in 1920. In 1946 Mauritania received the status of an overseas territory within the French Union, in 1958 that of an autonomous republic within the French community. On November 28, 1960, Mauritania became independent.
In 1961, Mokhtar Ould Daddah merged all political groups to form the Parti du Peuple Mauritania (PPM, German Mauritanian People’s Party). In 1966 there were bloody clashes between Moors and members of black African tribes in the south. At the beginning of the 1970s, Mauritania sought to loosen its close ties to France (e.g. introduction of its own currency, 1973); In 1974 the government nationalized iron ore mining and in 1975 copper ore mining. In his country’s external relations, Mokhtar looked for Ould Daddah to maintain a balance between northern and southern neighboring states as well as between pro and anti-western currents in the politics of the African states. After Morocco renounced the incorporation of the Mauritanian territory in 1970, Mauritania joined the Arab League in 1973. With the division of the Western Sahara, which was ruled by Spain until 1975/76, between Morocco and Mauritania, Mauritania found itself embroiled in military action with the Polisario Front.
On July 10, 1978, the army leadership overthrew President Mokhtar Ould Daddah, appointed a military committee as the new government, suspended the constitution and banned the unity PPM. Mauritania renounced the part of the Western Sahara that had been awarded to him and concluded a peace treaty with the Polisario Front on August 5, 1979. In 1981 slavery was officially abolished; however, in a 2002 report, Amnesty International accused Mauritania of continuing to tolerate slavery. After various structural and personnel changes within the military committee, Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah took over the leadership of the country in 1980, which, however, when he was abroad, in 1984 by Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya was overthrown by a bloodless coup.
In the second half of the 1980s, the conflict between the Arab-Berber Moors and the underprivileged black African population escalated. In early 1989 tensions arose with Senegal, during which 500,000 black Africans were expelled from Mauritania. From 1991 onwards, the adoption of a new constitution, the admission of political parties and the granting of freedom of the press led to gradual democratization (including the abolition of the military committee in 1992); President Taya was confirmed in office in partly controversial elections in 1992, 1997 and 2003. In the parliamentary elections of 1992, 1996 and 2001, the Parti Républicain Démocrate et Social (PRDS), the party of the President, won an absolute majority.
According to loverists, Mauritania, which was still on the side of Iraq during the Gulf Crisis of 1990/91, carried out a foreign policy change with the expulsion of the Iraqi ambassador at the end of 1995 and with the diplomatic recognition of Israel in 1999. In June 2003 and in autumn 2004 a total of three coup attempts by parts of the army failed, which obviously had their cause in the pro-Western course of the government. Finally, on August 3, 2005, President Taya, who was on a trip abroad, was overthrown by the armed forces. Power was taken over by a “Military Council for Justice and Democracy” under the police chief Ely Ould Mohamed Vall (* 1953), who was involved in the 1984 takeover by Taya had been involved. The 17-member military council set up a transitional government. One step towards democracy was the constitutional amendment adopted by referendum at the end of June 2006, which, among other things, limited the term of office of the President. In the local and parliamentary elections of November / December 2006, the opposition was able to achieve significant increases in votes, but neither party nor any party alliance was able to achieve an absolute majority. Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (* 1938) became the new president after a runoff election on March 25, 2007. He was overthrown in a bloodless coup on August 6, 2008, after he had recently dismissed high-ranking military officials. Power was taken over by a high council of state formed by the military and led by Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz. He won the presidential elections on July 18, 2009 in the first ballot. Sections of the opposition brought charges of election fraud. To combat Islamist terrorism, the government tightened security laws in 2010.
Inspired by the Arab Spring protests, demonstrators called for Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz to step down in the spring of 2011. Security forces used tear gas and batons against the demonstrators. From May 2011, there were also protests against an ongoing census. Black African Mauritanians described the questions posed as racist and accused the government of wanting to withdraw their citizenship. Between May and August 2012, there were regular demonstrations and sit-ins against the president’s rule. On October 13, 2012, he was shot at and seriously injured while driving outside the capital. He was flown to Paris for treatment. After his return on November 25, 2012, the opposition demanded that he resign because he was unable to lead the country. The parliamentary elections, which were actually due in 2011, were postponed again at the end of 2012. They finally took place in November / December 2013 and were boycotted by parts of the opposition. The ruling UPR won an absolute majority of the seats. Sections of the opposition also boycotted the presidential elections on June 21, 2014. Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz was able to vote for himself with around 82% of the votes and thus received the mandate for a second term of office. The anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid (* 1965), who was awarded the UN Human Rights Prize, who also ran in the presidential election, was sentenced in January 2015, along with two other activists, to two years’ imprisonment each. In November 2014 they tried to protest as part of an unauthorized campaign against land grabbing and the officially banned but still widespread slavery in Mauritania. In a controversial referendum on August 5, 2017, a majority of around 86% of the voters approved constitutional amendments launched by the President. included the abolition of the Senate and the change of the national flag. The opposition critical of the government had called for a boycott of the vote. Protest demonstrations were broken up by force.