Macron hosts Saudi crown prince despite rights outrage

AFP , Thursday 28 Jul 2022

French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for talks in Paris on Thursday, defying criticism that the invitation is deeply inappropriate barely four years after the murder by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Macron   MBS
This combination photo of French president Emmanuel Macron (L), and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R). AFP


The meeting will be seen as the latest step in the readmission of the Crown Prince into the international fold, after US President Joe Biden met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier in Jeddah this month.

The topics set to loom over the meeting include energy supply as concern grows over possible power shortages due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as reining in the nuclear programme of Riyadh's top regional foe Iran.

MBS -- who is portrayed at home as a champion of social and economic reform -- arrives in France fresh from a trip to Greece to discuss energy ties.

'Double standards'

The killing drew outrage not just over the elimination of a prominent critic of the Saudi regime, but also for the manner in which it was carried out. Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi consulate and strangled, on October 2, 2018.

But despite the concern over Saudi Arabia's rights record, the kingdom is seen by many in the West as an essential partner due to its energy resources, purchases of weaponry and staunch opposition to Iran's theocratic regime.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made the oil and gas reserves of the kingdom all the more important for the West.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard expressed concern that "values were being obliterated in the face of concern about the rising price of oil".

'Political leverage'

The French president had already travelled to the kingdom in December 2021 for talks with MBS, a visit that raised some eyebrows at the time.

MBS is in charge of the country's day-to-day business due to the ailing condition of his father, King Salman.

Macron will be meeting MBS fresh from talks with two close allies of the kingdom, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. The red carpet welcome for both leaders dismayed activists.

Macron will also be arriving from a three-nation tour of Africa, where he visited Cameroon, Benin and Guinea Bissau, none of which are seen as exemplary democracies.

After the recent fist-bump greeting from Biden that for many symbolised the West's re-acceptance of MBS, there will be huge interest in the body language between Macron and Prince Mohammed.

The talks are set to get underway late in the day, at 8:30 pm (1830 GMT), and include a working dinner at the Elysee Palace. MBS reportedly arrived late Wednesday at a Paris airport and headed to a private residence outside the city.

"The war in Ukraine has put the energy-producing countries back in the spotlight, and they are taking advantage of it," said Camille Lons, research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

"This gives them political leverage that they will use to reassert their importance on the international stage," she added.


**This story was edited by Ahram Online

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