Meaning of MAURITANIA, FLAG OF in English

national flag consisting of a green field (background) with a central crescent and star. The flag has a width-to-length ratio of 2 to 3. Although Mauritania includes both black African and Arab-Berber populations, the official symbolism of the nation's flag and coat of arms is associated with the latter. The flag's green background and its star and crescent are traditional Muslim symbols, in use for centuries. The design is of the conservative type common before the 20th century and still used by such nations as Turkey, the Comoros, Tunisia, and the individual states of the United Arab Emirates. In many Arab countries, however, this type of design has been replaced by flags of more modern form, such as those based on the Arab Revolt Flag of 1917 and the Arab Liberation Flag of 1952, containing the four colours of traditional Arab dynasties (red, white, black, and green) in a tricolour form with either a triangle at the hoist or an emblem in the centre. Mauritania was part of the French colonial empire until November 28, 1958, when an autonomous republic was established in order to meet rising nationalist expectations while preserving the French Community. The new national flag of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, replacing the French Tricolor, was adopted on April 1, 1959. There was no change to the design when Mauritania became an independent country on November 28, 1960. Whitney Smith History Numerous discoveries of Acheulian and Neolithic remains have been made in the north. Mauritania was first peopled by Negroes and by the Sanhadja Berbers. It was the cradle of the Berber Almoravid movement. The Almoravids imposed Islam upon all the neighbouring peoples. A caravan route at that time linked Mauritania with Morocco. Arab tribes infiltrated by this route and in the 15th century submerged the Berbers. The nomadic tribes formed several powerful confederations: Trarza and Brakna, which dominated the Sngal River valley; Kunta in the east; and Rigaibat (Regeibat) in the north. In 1442, Portuguese vessels rounded Cape Blanc, and in 1448 the Portuguese founded the fort of Arguin, whence they derived gold, gum arabic, and slaves. Later the French and English frequented Portendick, and then the French settled at Saint-Louis at the mouth of the Sngal River. In 1858 Colonel Louis Faidherbe ended Moorish domination over lower Sngal. After 1898 an Islamic specialist, Xavier Coppolani, succeeded in rallying all the Moors of the south to France. However, he was assassinated in 1905, and his work was completed by Colonel Henri Gouraud, who occupied Tagant in 1907 and Adrar in 1909. The Rigaibat were not finally pacified until 1955. Mauritania was constituted a territory of French West Africa in 1920 and later became a colony; it was at first governed from Saint-Louis in Senegal. In 1946 Mauritania became an overseas territory and in 1957, after repulsing an attack by Moroccan irregulars on the north, elected a government under Moktar Ould Daddah, who established the new capital at Nouakchott. In 1958 Mauritania voted to become a member state of the French Community, and on Nov. 28, 1960, its full independence was declared. It became a member of the United Nations in October 1961. Hubert Jules Deschamps The small political elite was divided over whether the country should be oriented more toward Senegal and black French-speaking Africa or toward Morocco (which sought to absorb it). The winning faction, under Sidi el-Moktar N'Diaye and his successor, Ould Daddah, chose independence with close ties to France and full participation in the Organization of African Unity. Reversing Moroccan policy, King Hassan II recognized Mauritanian independence in 1969 as part of his plan to gain control of Spanish Sahara. Mauritania joined the Arab League in 1973. As president since independence, Ould Daddah appeared securely established in spite of occasional strikes by miners and demonstrations by students, for his policies seemed attuned to a largely tribal population, 90 percent of whom were engaged in agriculture or pastoralism. The difficulties of suppressing guerrillas of the Polisario Front in Mauritania's portion of the Western Sahara (the former Spanish Sahara), which had been divided between Morocco and Mauritania in 1976, contributed to his downfall. On July 10, 1978, he was deposed and exiled in a military coup led by the chief of staff, Colonel Mustapha Ould Salek. Nevill Barbour L. Carl Brown Alfred G. Gerteiny Ould Salek resigned his position in June 1979 and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly. He was in turn replaced in January 1980 by the prime minister, Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla. In December 1984 Colonel Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya took over the presidency and the office of prime minister from Haidalla in a bloodless coup. Taya was victorious in the country's first multiparty presidential elections in 1992. The Mauritanian effort to disentangle itself from the Western Sahara worsened relations with Morocco. After signing a peace treaty with the Polisario Front in August 1979, Mauritania renewed diplomatic ties with Morocco in 1985 and sought a solution to the dispute in the Western Sahara. The Editors of the Encyclopdia Britannica The economy In the Sahel region of Mauritania a traditional subsistence economy is maintained, composed of livestock raising, agriculture, crafts, and petty trading. In the Sahara region, however, a modern economy is developing, based on the exploitation of iron-ore and copper resources and of the ichthyologically-rich continental shelf; the modern economy receives much needed capital investment and technical assistance from abroad. More than three-quarters of the Mauritanian population still lives by traditional activities, among which livestock raising is the most important. In numbers, goats and sheep are the most important livestock, followed by cattle, camels, donkeys, and horses. Cattle are raised primarily in the southern region, whereas goats and sheep are dispersed as far north as the limits of the Sahara. Camels are raised mostly in the north and the centre, especially in the Adrar region. The growth of the Mauritanian economy slowed in the 1980s after a lengthy period of rapid expansion in the 1960s and '70s. Agriculture and fishing account for almost one-third of the gross national product, with the industrial sector, including mining, contributing about one-quarter, public administration about 15 percent, and the remaining sectors about 30 percent. The state imposes indirect taxes on imports, a turnover tax on exports and mining, a service tax, and taxes on cattle, vehicles, wages and salaries, and profits from industrial and commercial concerns. Mauritania's budget, usually in deficit, was nominally balanced in the late 1980s. In the mid-1980s, principal and interest on a relatively large foreign indebtedness was rescheduled, but indebtedness remains a significant problem. Foreign aid, both bilateral (from France, Japan, China, the United States, and the Arab states) and by multilateral agencies (such as the African Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the European Economic Community), is primarily targeted to assist in project development but is also used for budgetary and food support. Agriculture and fishing Agriculture is necessarily dependent upon rainfall. Where the rainfall exceeds 17 inches a year, millet (fonio) and dates are the principal crops, supplemented by sorghum, beans, yams, corn (maize), and cotton. Seasonal agriculture is practiced on the easily flooded riverbanks and in the wadis of the Sahelian zone, upstream from the dams. There, too, millet, sorghum, beans, rice, and watermelons are grown. Irrigated agriculture is practiced in areas supplied by water-control projects and at oases, where well water is available; corn, barley, and some millet and vegetables are grown. The output of gum arabic is less than it was in former years. Agricultural production in Mauritania has continued to decline because of drought. Crop production fell by approximately two-thirds in the period from 1970 to 1980. From the late 1970s Mauritania was unable to produce more than half of its total food requirements. In agriculture the aim of successive Mauritanian governments has been to increase the amount of irrigated land in the Sngal River valley and, above all, to increase the production of rice, of which Mauritania is still obliged to import large quantities, to plant fresh palm trees to replace those destroyed by the cochineal insect, to drill fresh wells, to improve the quality of dates, and to encourage the cultivation of vegetables. Rich fishing grounds lie off Mauritania's Lvrier Bay. Mauritania stopped issuing fishing licenses in 1979, however, and in 1980 formed joint companies with Portugal, Iraq, South Korea, Romania, and the Soviet Union. In 1987, fisheries agreements were signed with the European Communities. At Nouadhibou fish are canned, frozen, or processed as fish flour. Several tons each year are dried and exported to other African countries. The land Relief, drainage, and soils Both land relief and drainage are influenced by the aridity that characterizes the greater part of the country. The impression of immensity given by the landscape is reinforced by its flatness; the coastal plains are lower than 150 feet (45 metres), while the higher plains of the interior vary from 600 to 750 feet. The interior plains form a plateau of which the culminating heights, occurring at different levels, form many tablelands joined to one another by very long, gentle slopes of about 2. The topography is relieved by vestiges of cliffs (generally cuestas); by sloping plains that terminate at one end of the slope with a steep cliff or faulted scarp, which may reach heights of 900 feet; or by inselbergs (steep-sided residual hills), of which the highest is Mount Ijill at 3,002 feet (915 metres), an enormous block of hematite. Structurally, Mauritania may be divided into three principal zones. The first of these, located in the north and northwest, consists of underlying Precambrian rock (about 2.7 billion years old), which emerges to form not only the backbone of northern Mauritania's Rigaibat ridge region but also the Akjoujt rock series that forms a vast peneplain (a land surface worn down by erosion to a nearly flat plain) studded with inselbergs. The second zone is located partly in the extreme north but mostly in the centre and east. In the north it consists of primary sandstone, which covers the Tindouf Syncline (a fold in the rocks in which the strata dip inward from both sides toward the axis); in the centre is the vast synclinal basin of Taoudeni, bounded by the Adrar, Tagant, and 'Aba plateaus. The basin is scarcely indented to the south by the Hodh Depression, with the Affoll Anticline (a fold in which the rock strata incline downward on both sides from a central axis) lying in its centre. The third zone is formed by the Senegalese-Mauritanian sedimentary basin, which includes coastal Mauritania and the lower Sngal River valley of the southwest. The Mauritanian landscape in general, as a result of the arid phases it underwent during the Quaternary period (i.e., within the past 1.6 million years), presents three different aspects; these are represented by skeletal soils, regs (desert surfaces consisting of small, rounded, tightly packed pebbles), and dunes. Skeletal soils are formed where outcrops of the underlying rock have been slightly weathered or where they have been covered with a patina or chalky crust. To these may be added the saline soils of the salt flats, formed from the caking of gypsum or of salt derived from the evaporation of former lakes. The regs form plains often of great extent, carpeted with pebbles and boulders. The dunes cover about 50 percent of the total area of the country. They are stretched out, often for several dozen miles, in long ridges known as 'alb, which are sometimes 300 feet high; they frequently overlap with one another, forming a network of domes and basins. It is only to the south of the 10-inch isohyet (an imaginary line connecting points with equal rainfall) that the sands bear a brown type of soil. This soil is characteristic of the steppe (treeless plains) and contains 2 percent humus. It is also only in the extreme southern part of the country that the iron-bearing lateritic soils of the Sudanic zone begin; in the lowest places occur patches of hydromorphic soilsthat is to say, soils that have been altered by waterborne materials. The drainage system is characterized by a lack of pattern. Normal drainage is limited to inland southwestern Mauritania, where tributaries of the Sngal River, which forms the frontier between Mauritania and Senegal, flow southward and are subject to ephemeral flooding in summer. In the greater part of the country, however, the plateaus are cut into by wadis (dry riverbeds), where the rare floods that occur dissipate their waters into a few permanent drainage basins called guelt (singular guelta). In the wastes of the north and the east, rainfall is so rare and slight that there is practically no runoff. Climate The climate owes its aridity to the northeastern trade winds, which blow constantly in the north and throughout most of the year in the rest of the country; the drying effect produced by these winds is increased by the harmattan, or east wind. With the exception of the few winter rains that occur as a result of climatic disturbances originating in the mid-latitude regions, precipitation essentially results from the rain-bearing southwesterly winds, which progressively extend throughout the southern half of the country at the height of the summer. The duration of the rainy season, as well as the total annual amount of rainfall, diminishes progressively from south to north. Thus, Slibaby in the extreme south receives about 25 inches (635 millimetres) between June and October; Kiffa, farther north, receives 14 inches between mid-June and mid-October; Tidjikdja receives seven inches between July and September; Atar receives seven inches between mid-July and September; and Nouadhibou receives between one and two inches, usually between September and November. Because of opposition between the wet southwesterlies and the harmattan, rains often take the form of stormy showers or squalls. The strength of the sun and the lack of haze in these latitudes result in high temperatures. In the summer months afternoon temperatures exceed 100 F (38 C) at most stations, and daily highs of 115 F (46 C) are not uncommon in the interior. The average temperature in the coldest month at most stations is in the region of 68 F (20 C), while the average temperature during the hottest month rises to about 75 F (24 C) at Nouakchott in September, to about 79 F (26 C) at Kiffa in May, to 81 F (27 C) at Atar in July, and to 84 F (29 C) at Nma in May. The people Ethnic and linguistic groups The Moors constitute more than two-thirds of the population; about half of them are white, or bidan, Moors of Arab and Berber descent, and about half are black Moors, of Sudanic origin. Moorish society historically was divided into a hierarchy of castes. At the head of the socioeconomic structure were the noble castes, composed of 'arabs, or warriors, and Murabit (marabouts), or priests and scholars of the Qur'an. The warriors were usually Arab, and the marabouts were usually Berber. The mass of the bidan population were vassals who received protection from the warriors or marabouts in return for tribute. There were two artisan classesthe blacksmiths and the griots (who were at once musicians and genealogists). Servant classes were formed of black Moors and were subdivided into 'abid, or slaves, and hartani, or freedmen. Among the ethnic and racial groups, blacks became the better educated and held most technical, professional, and diplomatic posts at the time of independence. Members of this servant caste, which developed as the bureaucratic class, became increasingly aware of their rights as citizens. Slavery was abolished by the French before independence and was officially abolished again on July 5, 1980, but subsequent reports claimed that the practice had continued. The Moors speak Hassaniyah, a dialect that draws most of its grammar from Arabic and uses a vocabulary of both Arabic and Berber words. Most of the members of the aristocratic castes also know literary Arabic. The remaining population, generally referred to as kewrin, consists of Tukulor (Toucouleur), who live in the Sngal River valley; Fulani, who are dispersed throughout the south; Soninke (Sarakole), who inhabit the extreme south; and Wolof (Oulof), who live in the vicinity of Rosso in coastal southwestern Mauritania. The Tukulor and the Fulani speak Fulfulde (Poular), and the other ethnic groups have retained their respective languages. Of Mauritania's total population an estimated one-fourth are nomads, and about one-third live in and around urban centres. Because of the country's large desert area, the average density is the lowest in western Africa. Three-fourths of Mauritanians live in the Sngal River valley. Life expectancies stand at 44 and 47 years respectively for men and women. Most of the non-Africans in Mauritania are French nationals engaged in technical assistance, commerce, and mining; Spaniards represent the second largest foreign community. Religious groups About 99 percent of all Mauritanians are Muslim. Most Moors belong to the Qadiriyah order. The Tukulor and some of the Tagant tribes belong to the Tijaniyah order. Many tariqas (mystical sects) flow from these orders.

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