Mohammed Ben Zayed Al Nayhane arrives in Paris on Sunday July 17 for an official two-day trip. It will be his first state visit abroad since assuming the presidency of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in mid-May, following the death of his half-brother, Khalifa bin Zayed. Al Nahyan. The French head of state went to the funeral of the latter, on May 15, to further strengthen the ties forged for several years already with his successor. The man nicknamed “MBZ” had behaved as the unofficial leader of the federation of seven Gulf principalities since 2014, when his predecessor, struck down by a stroke, had to withdraw from power.
“The fact that “MBZ” chooses France for his first trip abroad as president gives this trip a big symbolic dimension, notes François Touazi, former diplomat and co-founder of the CAPmena think tank, specializing in the Gulf countries. This testifies to the strength of the Franco-Emirati partnership and the complicity forged between him and Emmanuel Macron. »
To mark the occasion, the Elysée therefore put the small dishes in the big ones. On Sunday, Mohammed Ben Zayed will be greeted when he gets off the plane by the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire. Monday morning, he will see the Minister for the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, at the Hôtel des Invalides, before meeting one-on-one with the Head of State, at the Elysée. MM. Ben Zayed and Macron will meet again in the evening for a state dinner at the Grand Trianon, in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. About a hundred guests will be present, officials and personalities from the worlds of business, culture and science. Accompanied to the airport by the head of diplomacy Catherine Colonna, the Emirati leader will leave Paris the next day, not without having met the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne.
Human rights violations ignored
The passage through Versailles will not fail to recall the September 2021 lunch between Emmanuel Macron and Mohammed Ben Zayed at the Château de Fontainebleau. The trip is also in line with that made by the French head of state in Dubai, in December 2021. At the time, an announcement was made of the record sale of 80 Rafales to the Emirates. Contracts had been signed for an amount of the order of more than fifteen billion euros.
Exchanges between Paris and Abu Dhabi, which began in the 1970s, when France’s relatively balanced position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue made it attractive in the eyes of the Gulf monarchs, intensified in the 1990s, under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, an admirer of Sheikh Zayed, the founding president of the UAE.
But under the first mandate of Emmanuel Macron, this partnership took on a dimension never seen before, the UAE becoming not only a leading customer of French industry, particularly the military, but also the pillar of its action in the world. Arab-Muslim. To the point of sometimes sharing the same errors, as when Paris supported the renegade Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Libya, author in 2019-2020 of a calamitous offensive against the internationally recognized government of Tripoli.
Also at the cost of complete silence from Paris on the human rights violations perpetrated by the autocratic regime in Abu Dhabi, both internally and in its military operations abroad. In December, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) questioned, in a report, France’s arms sales to the Emirates, some of which are suspected of having been used in Yemen, within the coalition anti-Houthi led by Saudi Arabia.
“We wanted to demonstrate how the relationship between the two countries is so close that it circumvents international arms trade regulations,” says FIDH’s Antoine Madelin. Two days before the arrival of “MBZ” in Paris, FIDH published an open letter to draw attention to the fate of imprisoned Emirati opponents, including dissident Ahmed Mansour, placed in solitary confinement since 2017.
Different line on the Russian front
The wealth and stability of the Emirates largely explain the idyll between Paris and Abu Dhabi. The federation is not only a first-rate energy power, the second largest oil producer in the Middle East, determined to become a major player in renewables. But it is also a colossal financial power, at the head of half a dozen investment funds, whose cumulative value exceeds 1.5 trillion dollars. During his trip to Dubai, Emmanuel Macron had concluded an agreement with one of these funds, Moubadala, which injected 4 billion euros into the Public Investment Bank (BPI). “Having such a partner in the face of the looming crisis is a win-win,” said François Touazi, who expects economic cooperation between the two countries to expand into new sectors, such as ” hydrogen, a major issue in the context of energy transition, new technologies and food security”.
Since December, the geopolitical context has deteriorated against a backdrop of the stalemate in the Iranian nuclear talks and the war in Ukraine. Faced with Tehran, Paris continues to advocate the rescue of the agreement denounced by Donald Trump, while the Emirates seem to be preparing for the failure of the negotiations, without however playing escalation, unlike Israel. All the more reason for the two partners to form a common front in order to ease tensions in the region.
Faced with the Russians, the French and Emirati leaders are however not on the same line. Mr. Macron supports Ukraine, while hoping for a negotiated solution with Russia, once the fighting has subsided. Mr. Bin Zayed did not choose his camp, the Emirates having refrained, within the UN, from asking for a cessation of hostilities, in order to maintain their relations with Moscow.
While the Europeans have decided on an embargo on Russian oil and fear that Putin will completely cut off gas deliveries by winter, priority is given to the diversification of energy supply sources. In this area, the Emirates, like other Gulf producers, refuse to significantly increase their oil production, and rely on the decisions of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In Paris, however, they should commit to diesel deliveries, according to terms that were not specified before the visit.
A Franco-Emirati business council should also be convened, chaired by the CEO of Total, Patrick Pouyanné, and by Sultan Al-Jaber, the boss of Adnoc, the Emirati oil company. Various agreements were to be signed in the energy, transport and waste treatment sectors. A “global strategic energy partnership” will also be put in place, in order to identify shared investment projects in nuclear or carbon capture. One way to fight against global warming while diversifying sources of supply. “Everyone has their own approach to Ukraine, but what matters is what brings us together”, assured the Elysée, before the arrival of “MBZ”.