Italy eyes closer ties with Saudi Arabia
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had some warm words for Saudi Arabia after meeting with the Kingdom’s Ambassador to Italy Prince Faisal bin Sattam bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. “Saudi Arabia is an element of stability and reliability both in bilateral relations and as an actor in the more general Middle Eastern chessboard. My intention is to relaunch the collaboration between the two countries to resume a constructive dialogue, not only in terms of security but in all economic, commercial and cultural sectors,” he said.
Salvini has, for better or for worse, been indicated by the world’s media as the kingmaker and frontman of the new government of Rome. He is very harsh with the European Union, but on the other side is very open to recreating a frank dialogue with countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean and in the Arab-African world, without the mediation of the distant and cold Brussels bureaucrats.
Italy has understood that the role of Cinderella of the Mediterranean — chosen by the previous left-wing government, which was completely subservient to the desires of France — has brought to Rome only chaos and misery; but now the music has changed. To speak with Tripoli, which is only about 300 kilometers from Sicily, Rome no longer passes through Paris, which is 1,700 kilometers away, but instead organizes day trips. In the last month, not only has Salvini done so, but also the foreign minister and the defense minister.
The result is that ENI, the Italian oil and gas company that was almost pushed out of Libya, has once again become the leader in the country and, by the end of September, will put into production 10 new gas fields in collaboration with the Libyan National Oil Corporation. The same is true for Eritrea and Ethiopia, former colonies who are finally at peace with each other and with whom it is necessary to re-establish a transparent and direct relationship. Salvini has also repeatedly reiterated that he wants to mend the relationships with Egypt that were destroyed by the former left-wing government. He met President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo on Wednesday and they spoke of the stabilization of Libya, the common struggle against terrorism and people trafficking, and economic synergies based on the exploitation of gas fields.
Italy's Salvini plans visit to Saudi Arabia to help nurture improving bilateral relationship and growing ties with Arab world generally.
And then there is Saudi Arabia, whose leading role in the Arab and Islamic world is finally fully realized, so much so that Salvini announced he would like to visit the Kingdom before the end of the year. The minister is undoubtedly interested in the reforms inaugurated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who Il Populista — the press organ of Salvini’s League party — has repeatedly described as enlightened and moderate, very attentive to the rights of women and of childhood, an enemy of extremists, and the bearer of a vision for the future good of the Saudis and the whole world.
Immediately after the announcement of the breaking of relations between the Anti-Terror Quartet and Qatar, Salvini declared to Il Populista: “Saudi Arabia realizes that Qatar finances and fosters terrorism. We will immediately set up blocks and controls in Italy and in Europe too on the income, funds and investments coming from Qatar. All the pseudo-cultural associations that have received funding from Qatar are to be closed and sealed.”
The importance of the relationship with the Saudis has also been stressed in Brussels by League MEP Mario Borghezio, who last week met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir during a meeting with Geoffrey Van Orden, the Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Terrorism. According to Borghezio, there are possible synergies in combating terrorism and creating conditions for new commercial and cultural exchanges.
A good sign was undoubtedly the announcement by the artistic director of La Scala in Milan, Alexander Pereira, that he follows with great pleasure the reforms underway in Riyadh. He expressed a desire to take the opera “La Scala” to Saudi Arabia because: “These things done in Saudi Arabia would have great value given the importance of the country and the influence it exerts on the Arab and Muslim world in general.”
The assignment to Rome of the permanent headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean, which brings together 47 European, Arab and African countries, is seen as a further sign of a new Italian centrality in the area. But it is clear that, without the American green light and good relations with Russia, Italy can do little. Relations with Donald Trump, however, are excellent — perhaps even the best among EU countries — as are the government’s ties with Vladimir Putin.
- Max Ferrari is a journalist and politician. He is a former parliamentary journalist, a war correspondent in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and director of a TV channel. Twitter: @MaxFerrari