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The Heartbeat Of The Gulf Region Is Felt In Paris – OpEd

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By Nathalie Goulet *

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Paris is still buzzing from the visit of UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and now eagerly awaits Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is heading to the French capital close on the heels of his meeting with US President Joe Biden.

This July, Paris is a prime destination for the two great powers of the Arabian Peninsula. There are set pieces: Cooperation between France and Saudi Arabia is the same as with the UAE, including military cooperation, economic cooperation and investment, climate action, the establishment of a common energy policy strategy and the fight against radical Islam.

Saudi Arabia has suffered numerous terrorist attacks and is well versed in dealing with the threat of extremism. An institution for counseling and care of former militants was created to counter this security threat 20 years before France set up its deradicalization units (Quartiers de Prise en Charge de la Radicalisation, or QPRs).

This was followed a few years later by the landmark Etidal, the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, which uses artificial intelligence to probe social networks and track down terrorists.

Then there is the extraordinary cultural cooperation in the transformation of AlUla and Hegra, included in the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2008. The site includes some of the most important treasures of the Nabataean civilization and is developed by the French Agency for AlUla Development, chaired by Gerard Mestrallet.

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The magnificent site has been excavated by French archaeologists who have been working there for more than 10 years. It is an exceptional destination for tourists who would never have previously thought of visiting Saudi Arabia.

Even more remarkable is the NEOM smart city being built on the shores of the Red Sea. There was widespread disbelief before the country’s policy of modernization with the Vision 2030 strategy spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Yet this is now the reality for the youth of Saudi Arabia and the world ought to wake up to the extraordinary changes that have taken place in the country over the last five years.

But beyond these set pieces, there is the real substance of the visit: Remember President Emmanuel Macron’s impeccable diplomatic performance in 2017 when tensions were at their highest in the region? His trip to Riyadh helped ease them.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to France comes against the backdrop of an energy crisis and a new architecture of alliances, seen in the axis comprised of Russia, Turkey and Iran, and seen in the effects of the Abraham Accords, to which Saudi Arabia is not a party.

Saudi Arabia thus has an important role to play in defending the Palestinians, who have been totally forsaken by Pax Americana and the business-as-usual philosophy.

The world is unstable and faces major security challenges, hence the Saudi visit to Paris is a strong signal.

It comes as President Macron ends a quick tour of Benin and Cameroon. We know Saudi Arabia’s role in Africa, and joint action against terrorism in West Africa will be an important topic. In addition, to boost development in this part of the world, Saudi Arabia invested $1 billion in 2021 via the Saudi Fund for Development.

Africa will no doubt be on the agenda to be discussed by President Macron and the crown prince.

The same goes for Iran, the other burning issue of the day, with the difficult resuscitation of the nuclear agreement, despite Iran remaining a threat to the Kingdom through its proxy strategy and the Houthi militia.

For a country that was synonymous until recently with resistance to change, Saudi Arabia is embarking on a delicate phase of very rapid modernization.

Navigating between tradition and modernity, Saudi Arabia is still in the process of a social transformation. It is a crucial stage because there will be no way back, given that more than one-quarter of the population is aged under 14.

France must support these changes, including those that affect institutions, as well as those that affect difficult issues such as human rights. Saudi Arabia is a partner of France.

I had the honor of meeting the crown prince at length in Paris a few years ago. During the meeting, he outlined with clarity his 2030 plan for the modernization of Saudi Arabia. This process is now well and truly underway and we only have to look at the streets and restaurants of Riyadh or Jeddah for proof.

All is not perfect, but Paris, like Riyadh, was not built in a day.

  • Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing the Orne department (Normandy). Twitter: @senateur61

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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