Mauritania is culturally and politically part of the Arab world: it is a member of the Arab League and Arabic is the sole official language. Reflecting its colonial heritage, French is widely spoken and serves as a lingua franca. The official religion is Islam, and almost all inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. Despite its prevailing Arab identity, Mauritanian society is multiethnic: the Bidhan, or so-called "white moors", make up 30 percent of the population, while the Haratin, or so-called "black moors", comprise 40 percent. Both groups reflect a fusion of Arab-Berber ethnicity, language, and culture. The remaining 30 percent of the population comprises various sub-Saharan ethnic groups.
Despite an abundance of natural resources, including iron ore and petroleum, Mauritania remains poor; its economy is based primarily on agriculture, livestock, and fishing. Mauritania is known for its poor human rights record, most notably the continued practice of slavery, a result of a historical caste system between the Bidhan and Haratin. It was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and criminalized it only in 2007. (Full article...)
The military forces of Mauritania are listed by the IISS Military Balance 2007 as comprising 15,870 personnel with an additional 5,000 paramilitaries, in the national gendarmerie. The Navy (Marine Mauritanienne) has 620 personnel and 11 patrol and coastal combatants, with bases at Nouadhibou and Nouakchott. The CIA reports that the navy includes naval infantry. The small Air Force (Force Aerienne Islamique de Mauritanie, FAIM) has 250 personnel, 2 FTB-337 aircraft, 15 transport aircraft of various types, and 4 SF-260E trainers. The 5,000 paramilitaries are divided in the National Gendarmerie (3,000), and the National Guard (2,000) who both report to the Ministry of the Interior. Other paramilitary services reported by the CIA in 2001 include the National Police, Presidential Guard (BASEP). (Full article...)