Saudi Arabia, France and Gulf cooperation
Saudi Arabia has had historic relations with France that are exceptional when compared to those with other European countries
Following Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s landmark US visit he headed to France, with which Saudi Arabia has had historic relations that are exceptional when compared to those with other European countries. France was one of the first countries to acknowledge the governance of founder King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman in 1926.
It sent a consul to handle its affairs there in 1929, and the Al-Jazirah Pact crystallized between the two countries in 1931. After Saudi unity was achieved, France was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with the kingdom, via forming the first diplomatic mission in Jeddah in 1936.
Bilateral ties have remained strong, and over international and regional affairs both countries have had mutual understandings, almost to the point of complete harmony, from the era of Charles de Gaulle to the present day.
Strong bilateral ties have enabled powers of moderation and an insistence on basic solutions regarding Palestine. France took it upon itself to curb the Syrian regime and its practices in Lebanon. Paris and Riyadh contributed to establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try the murderers of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. France also supports the popular revolution against the Syrian regime, and supports the moderate opposition.
Bilateral ties have remained strong, and over international and regional affairs both countries have had mutual understandings, almost to the point of complete harmonyFahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Paris cares for and understands Arab and Muslim causes the most out of European countries, and encourages moderate political and ideological powers in the region. France also supports Arab think tanks to help spread knowledge. Thinker Edgar Morin says the current Arab and Muslim reality resembles the dark ages that Europe, particularly France, experienced due to civil wars between 1562 and 1598, and wars between Protestants and Catholics.
The French civil war destroyed everything, but rare historical moments made the country politically mature and secular. Philosophical enlightenment followed, allowing literature and arts to flourish. However, all this came after decades of war and bloodshed.
The Saudi prince’s visit to France aims to discuss development plans. President Francois Hollande has voiced support for Saudi Vision 2030, and the two have discussed Iran’s regional meddling, which is clearly seen in Yemen and Bahrain.
This in addition to the massacres that Tehran and its proxies are committing in Syria and Iraq against civilians. Iran is also obstructing the election of a Lebanese president, and gives Hezbollah weapons to use against the Lebanese people. Party leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged Tehran’s support a few days ago.
The prince will co-chair the third meeting of the Saudi-French Joint Committee to discuss issues such as economic cooperation. Bilateral commercial trade has increased in the past decade, and last year France was reportedly the kingdom’s eighth most important trading partner.
According to the General Authority for Statistics, bilateral trade amounted to 36.6 billion riyals ($9.7 billion) in 2015. Total trade between them from 2006-2015 reached 373.6 billion riyals ($99.6 billion).
France supports Saudi-led alliances, such as the Arab alliance in Yemen, and the military and Islamic alliance against terrorism. Paris and Riyadh are both fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) via the international coalition.
France always supports Saudi operations against al-Qaeda and ISIS. The French are aware of ISIS’s threats - they remember the Bataclan massacre in Nov. 2015, and do not want a repeat. France benefits from Saudi expertise in the war on terror, as do other countries such as Britain.
Prince Mohammed’s visit bolsters bilateral cooperation, activates economic work and organizes political work. It is through this visit that French-Saudi relations will be at their best. Everyone knows that the two countries largely agree on regional and global affairs. France is an exceptional and historical ally - the details of the prince’s visit are proof of that.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 28, 2016
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.