Over the centuries, the islands were invaded by a succession of diverse groups from the coast of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Portuguese explorers visited the archipelago in 1505. "Shirazi" Arab migrants introduced Islam at about the same time. Between 1841 and 1912, France established colonial rule over Grande Comore, Anjouan, Mayotte, and Moheli and placed the islands
under the administration of the governor general of Madagascar. Later, French settlers, French-owned companies, and wealthy Arab merchants established a plantation-based economy that now uses about one-third of the land for export crops. After World War II, the islands became a French overseas territory and were represented in France's National Assembly. Internal political autonomy was granted in
1961. Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for Comoros to become independent in 1978. On July 6, 1975, however, the Comorian Parliament passed a resolution declaring unilateral independence. The deputies of Mayotte abstained. As a result, the Comorian Government has effective control over only Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli. Mayotte remains under French administration.
The Union of Comoros is ruled by former Army Col. President Azali Assoumani. The political situation in Comoros has been extremely fluid since the country's independence in 1975, subject to the volatility of coups and political insurrection. Colonel Azali seized power in a bloodless coup in April 1999, overthrowing Interim President Tadjiddine Ben Said Massounde, who himself had held the
office since the death of democratically elected President Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim in November 1998. In May 1999, Azali decreed a Constitution that gave him both executive and legislative powers. Bowing somewhat to international criticism, Azali appointed a civilian prime minister, Bainrifi Tarmidi, in December 1999; however, Azali retained the mantle of head of state and army commander. In
December 2000, Azali named a new civilian Prime Minister, Hamada Madi, and formed a new civilian Cabinet. When Azali took power he also pledged to step down in 2000 and relinquish control to a democratically elected president. Instead, in 2001, Azali resigned from the military and ran as a civilian candidate for the national president. He was elected in flawed but fair elections.
In a separate nod to pressure to fully restore civilian rule, the government organized several committees to compose a new Constitution, including the August 2000 National Congress and November 2000 Tripartite Commission. The opposition parties initially refused to participate in the Tripartite Commission, but on February 17, representatives of the government, the Anjouan separatists, the
political opposition, and civil society organizations signed a "Framework Accord for Reconciliation in Comoros," brokered by the Organization for African Unity (OAU), now the African Union. The accord called for the creation of a new Tripartite Commission for National Reconciliation to develop a "New Comorian Entity" with a new Constitution. Although the Commission set June as its goal for
completing the Constitution and December for the national elections, disagreements over procedure and goals delayed completion of the draft Constitution. The African Union and the Francophonie organization have encouraged continued negotiation over the outstanding fiscal and political issues dividing the national government and the regional island authorities. The principal disagreements concern
distribution of national revenues and authority over law enforcement and national security.