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Emmanuel Macron rehabilitates “MBS”, the Saudi Crown Prince, in Jeddah

Emmanuel Macron was certainly not received with great pomp by Mohamed Ben Salmane on December 4 in Riyadh. But their meeting was a first-rate diplomatic gift for the Saudi Crown Prince, nicknamed MBS. It was indeed the first by a Western leader since the atrocious assassination of militant Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi three years ago at the Istanbul consulate – for which the CIA concluded that MBS had necessarily given its approval.

A politically costly gesture

Since October 2018, Mohamed Ben Salmane had been ostracized from the international community, at least in front. US President Joe Biden, for example, only addresses King Salman.

“Emmanuel Macron’s visit is not trivial,it is a way of rehabilitating MBS, confirms Anne Gadel, consultant specializing in the Middle East at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. There must therefore be good reasons for doing it since it is very costly politically and it does not send good signs.. »

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Asked about this “Return to the saddle” problematic, the President of the Republic referred, slightly annoyed, to the G20 organized by Arabia in November 2020, where “All the G20 leaders were there”. “I do not endorse anything, I am demanding”, he assured even before his visit from Dubai (United Arab Emirates), the first stop of his two-day tour in the region. “A very large part of the future of the Gulf is played out here and part of the future of the whole region is played out here”, he added the next day to Jeddah.

In addition to a few contracts – 26 civilian helicopters for Airbus and a water management contract for Veolia – Emmanuel Macron also took advantage of the withdrawal of the American ally in the region to present himself as a reliable partner.

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At the end of his meeting with MBS, the president assured Saturday, December 4 that he had “Talked about everything without any taboos” and to have been able to evoke “Obviously the question of human rights”. In addition to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, and despite notable advances for women’s rights, Arabia detains 33 journalists in its jails and executes more and more convicts each year.

“This trip is not glorious in terms of the issues on which France still wants to position itself as human rights. And even though it was brought up by both men, so what, if it doesn’t work out? “, asks Anne Gadel.

Re-engage the relationship between Beirut and Riyadh

To justify the rehabilitation of the Saudi leader, Emmanuel Macron has especially put forward the Lebanese file. Lebanon and Arabia have been in open crisis since Riyadh recalled its ambassador to Beirut at the end of October and expelled the Lebanese ambassador after the words of a minister who had criticized the military intervention led by the coalition led by the Saudi kingdom in Yemen against the Houthi rebels. Riyadh has also banned exports from Lebanon on its soil. These decisions were followed by retaliatory measures from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, which deepened the Lebanese economic crisis.

Friday, December 3, to calm the Saudi anger, the Lebanese Minister of Information in question, George Kordahi, resigned, stressing that this was the wish of Paris. The next day, Emmanuel Macron and MBS announced a joint initiative to help the country of the Cedars and they called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati. “Saudi Arabia and France want to fully engage” in view of a “Re-engagement of the relationship” between the two countries after a serious diplomatic crisis, said the head of state before leaving Arabia.

Can the approach of the French president, who was already very active on the Lebanese file after the explosion of the port of Beirut in August 2020, change the situation? “I am skeptical because what Saudi Arabia did in October was a strong and profound signal, not just temporary, in the continuity of an older deterioration in relations between Beirut and Riyadh, linked to regional issues and to the ‘Iran, explains Anne Gadel. I doubt that will change Arabia’s position, it is a precarious calculation. “

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