Three questions about the meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane, scheduled for today at the Elysée

Mohammed bin Salman arrived in France on Wednesday for talks with Emmanuel Macron, who is trying to convince emerging countries to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and support his “new global financial pact”.

“It will be a one-to-one lunch”, according to the Elysée. President Emmanuel Macron talks, Friday, June 16, with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. This second visit in a year of “MBS”, nickname of the de facto leader of the rich oil kingdom, has already been strongly criticized by human rights NGOs. “It’s the triumph of the power of money”denounced Patrick Baudouin, the president of the League of Human Rights (LDH), on franceinfo, Friday morning.

1 What are they going to discuss?

From the war in Ukraine to Iran via the Lebanese crisis and Syria, Emmanuel Macron and Mohammed ben Salmane must address several sensitive international issues. The objective being to “provide bilateral perspectives and study the major issues of the moment”, according to the Elysee. The war in Ukraine will however be a priority for the French president, who tries to convince emerging countries to condemn the Russian invasion of its neighbour. Emmanuel Macron will highlight “how important the question of Ukraine is” and has implications all over the world, and “how Saudi Arabia can exert influence, including on Russia”, details the presidency.

Riyadh also retains major influence in Lebanon, as does Iran. Emmanuel Macron wants to push the Saudis “to engage in conversation with the Iranians and with others to create favorable conditions for the election of a president” in Lebanon, plunged into a historic crisis. Saudi Arabia is also the country which, along with the other Gulf monarchies, can financially support Lebanon while the Europeans are focused on Ukraine.

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Finally, “we would like to have the crown prince’s assessment of the intensity of the Iranian threat (…) and how he intends to deal with the Iranians”, explains the Elysée. It’s about a meeting “important for both sides in a changing international and Middle Eastern context”, observes Ziad Majed, professor at the American University of Paris, with AFP.

2 What are the objectives of this meeting?

Arrived Wednesday in France, Mohammed ben Salmane must stay almost ten days in France, where he owns a sumptuous residence, the Louis XIV castle, in Louveciennes (Yvelines). For the Saudi prince, this long visit and his meeting with the President of the Republic are part of a communication plan. Beyond international issues, we must also see this visit as an operation to seduce the Saudis about Saudi Arabia’s candidacy for the 2030 World Expo, to which MBS is very attached”note a French diplomat, quoted Wednesday in Challenges. A new step in the business of soft-power led by the prince who, since 2017, has been trying to portray himself as a modernizing leader.

“The bin Salman regime is spending billions and billions of dollars to improve its image at all levels. [Les Saoudiens] organize sumptuous concerts with the biggest international stars. They buy footballers like Ronaldo or Benzema”commented on franceinfo Ahmed Benchemsi, director of Middle East communication for the NGO Human Rights Watch, for whom MBS is courted by world leaders for its petrodollars.

As for Emmanuel Macron, he is preparing the summit for a new global financial pact, scheduled for June 22 and 23 in Paris, where around fifty heads of state are expected, many of whom come from non-aligned emerging countries. Mohammed ben Salmane, who will remain in France until the end of this summit, is therefore the subject of special attention from the French president.

France, “only Western player that maintains ties with Iran while being an ally of the Gulf monarchies”strives “for a while” to return to the Middle Eastern scene, Ziad Majed told AFP. MBS has clearly positioned itself as a supporter of stability and regional order. Even if “this stability” through “the stifling of protest”adds the political scientist.

3 Why is this visit controversial?

The last meeting between the two men in Paris, in July 2022, had already aroused the indignation of human rights defenders as well as the French left. It was then the first visit to Paris by Mohammed bin Salman since the assassination in 2018, in Turkey, of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, attributed to the crown prince, in particular by American intelligence. “I find it regrettable to shake hands with a leader whose responsibility in the barbaric assassination of a journalist has been demonstrated, acting as if nothing had happened”still estimated Ahmed Benchemsi, of Human Rights Watch, quoted by AFP on Thursday.

While seven young Saudis were recently sentenced to death for “alleged crimes” committed while they were minors, Emmanuel Macron was made “the main architect of the relegitimization of the Saudi prince since 2018”, denounces the secretary general of Amnesty International France, Agnès Callamard, to Radio France. LONG “solemnly request” to Emmanuel Macron to intervene with the Crown Prince “to demand that Saudi Arabia suspend the execution” of these seven condemned.

“France is in the process of awarding a sort of patent of respectability” to Mohammed bin Salman, was indignant Patrick Baudouin on franceinfo. “We do not need to give such strong symbols of reception to leaders who do not respect rights and freedoms”believes the president of the League of Human Rights.

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