The strong bond between Saudi Arabia and France
I served in France from 2011 until 2015 as deputy head of mission, and then charge d’affaires in the Embassy of Saudi Arabia. However, my relationship with France started almost two decades earlier, when I traveled as a young man to learn French and consequently fell in love with the country, and anything French. There is a very strong bond between Saudis and France, and we normally associate the country with beauty, fine culture, philosophy and great museums.
Full diplomatic relations between our two countries began in 1926. The relationship is one of the world’s oldest and took a new, distinguished turn when the late King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz visited France in 1967 and met with the French President Charles de Gaulle. This visit took the bilateral relations to new levels of close cooperation in all spheres.
Subsequent visits by the leaders of both countries upgraded the relations into a full partnership. The custodian of the two holy mosques, King Salman, visited France in 2014 when he was crown prince, and cemented the close coordination and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and France. The current crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has boosted the partnership through the many visits he has paid France in the last few years.
Saudi Arabia and France have signed many agreements in all fields. Thousands of Saudi students are studying at French universities. About 70 French medical residency positions are annually offered to Saudi physicians interested in obtaining specialization degrees. Recently, hundreds of them opted to remain in France and joined the frontline battle at French hospitals against the coronavirus disease, alongside their French colleagues.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 relies on the experience and technologies of friendly countries such as France to achieve its objectives. There are mega-projects, and France is already contributing to these projects particularly in the field of tourism and hospitality.
In fact, we worked closely with France in preserving historical and archaeological sites long before Vision 2030 was launched, and are still working closely together at AlUla and others. Both countries are collaborating on many projects, whether bilaterally or within the framework of the G20. Although coordination and cooperation are ongoing, there is always space for improvement. I am sure the special relationship between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron will take relations to new heights.
The launch of Arab News’ French-language edition is timely. Saudi Arabia doesn’t necessarily enjoy positive coverage in France for reasons that are beyond the scope of this piece. I am sure Arab News will bridge the gap of understanding and promote the new Saudi Arabia and what it stands for. We want the great French people and French-speaking peoples around the world to know about the positive reforms that were impossible without the wisdom and courage of our crown prince, who is leading us into the future under the guidance of King Salman. We Saudis might not all be Francophones, but the majority of us are certainly Francophiles.
• Ali Al-Qarni served in the Saudi Embassy to France from 2011 until 2015.