On the steps of the Élysée, it was with a long handshake and smiles that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman (MBS) and Emmanuel Macron met on July 28, on the occasion of a “dinner of work”. A meeting that carried its share of controversy, a little less than four years after the assassination of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
Directly implicated, the Saudi crown prince experienced a long period of isolation on the international scene. Two NGOs – Dawn and Trial International – have also filed, during the visit of the Crown Prince to Paris, a complaint for complicity in torture and enforced disappearance against Mohammed Ben Salman.
However, the energy crisis that European countries are suffering the brunt of, deprived of Russian hydrocarbon imports since the start of the war in Ukraine, has considerably reshuffled the cards. With 23% of the world’s oil reserves, the’Saudi Arabia is an essential economic player. A crucial position, as evidenced by the visit to Riyadh of the American president, Joe Biden, in mid-July, when he had promised to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah state.
[Série] MBS, a Saudi prince among many others (1/5)
After Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Riyadh in december 2021, diplomatic relations between France and Saudi Arabia seem to resume at full speed. Doctor of political science Sébastien Boussois, specialist in Euro-Arab relations, deciphers the meaning of this visit for Young Africa.
Young Africa: The visit of Mohammed Ben Salman [MBS] Does she endorse his rehabilitation, four years after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi?
Sebastien Boussois: The simple fact that this is his first visit to Europe, and mainly to France, testifies to a form of normalization. Mohammed Ben Salman is in the odor of sanctity, it is a return to grace, and he himself must be very happy: he demonstrates that, whatever he has done since he became crown prince – whether it is the Khashoggi affair or the murderous and hopeless war in Yemen – the Western powers are ready to give up, since they need his country.
With the energy crisis, we cannot do without one of the leading oil-producing countries in the world. We have the choice between plague and cholera, and we chose Saudi Arabia over Russia. Whatever their torment – repression, human rights violations, wars and interference – relations between France and the Gulf countries, in particular Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, are fundamental. for each other. Not to mention that trade with Saudi Arabia and arms contracts with Riyadh are essential for the French military-industrial complex.
When the American president came to Riyadh in mid-July, the Saudi government refused to promise an increase in oil supply. Can the Saudi position change after this visit to France? Under what conditions?
By increasing his country’s oil production, MBS would face a triple problem. This would first lower the price of oil, which is its main source of income since at this stage there is not sufficient diversification of the Saudi economy. Moreover, OPEC+ being co-chaired by Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the latter buying fuel oil from Russia, it will not clash with its partner. Finally, the kingdom does not have the necessary infrastructure. It cannot increase its oil production overnight.
We are not the only applicants in this visit. MBS came to find investors for its oil infrastructure but also for its Neom project, a disproportionate futuristic city of which it sadness to complete the financing.
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As for Macron, he has always liked having the ability to speak with the greatest, regardless of the lesser place of France in the concert of nations. Even if he thinks he can discuss with MBS, between “young people”, the latter cannot accede to his request, he would risk seeing everyone knocking on his door. The Saudi crown prince tries to find the most interesting bilateral agreements, but if he does not give in to the United States – historical partners of Saudi Arabia at all levels since 1945 – why would he do it for France?
The issue of the Iran nuclear deal was raised by both leaders. What are Riyadh’s demands on the subject? Is Saudi Arabia more willing to negotiate with Iran given the US withdrawal?
The 2020 Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab states further isolated Iran regionally. Rather, Saudi Arabia’s goal is to scuttle this deal and buy time, in the hope that the Republicans return to the White House in 2024. Trump’s return would be a godsend for MBS, with the Democrats being more bound by their electorate to put the question of human rights in the balance in their relations with the kingdom.
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What’s more, Saudi Arabia is more interested in a rapprochement with Israel than in a deal with Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Council, which remains on the US list of terrorist organizations.
Mid-July, it’s Mohammed Ben Zayed (MBZ), the leader of the United Arab Emirates, who visited Paris. After Biden’s failed visit to Riyadh, is France seeking to regain its influence – or to recover the “place” of the United States with the Gulf countries?
The American withdrawal has already been filled. Partly by “predatory powers”, in the words of strategist François Heisbourg, like Russia, but which are in difficulty today. Above all, we are witnessing the emergence or return of regional powers – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey, whose struggles for influence are fueling tensions in the region and could call into question the balance of the area.
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But the Western influence, especially American, in fact, even if it is less directly visible on the ground, remains important through the dollar and the agreements of cooperation military.