INTERVIEW: Ambassador Hend Al-Otaiba hopes to bring art, history, and culture of UAE to France

Exclusive INTERVIEW: Ambassador Hend Al-Otaiba hopes to bring art, history, and culture of UAE to France
Al-Otaiba shared in an interview with Arab News her favorite French discoveries and her experiences as an Emirati woman and mother living in France. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 September 2022

INTERVIEW: Ambassador Hend Al-Otaiba hopes to bring art, history, and culture of UAE to France

INTERVIEW: Ambassador Hend Al-Otaiba hopes to bring art, history, and culture of UAE to France
  • ‘We look forward to future opportunities to bring the art, history, and culture of the UAE to France’ — Hend Al-Otaiba

PARIS: On Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, Hend Al-Otaiba presented her credentials to French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris as the first-ever female ambassador of the UAE to France. Today, she shares with Arab News en Francais an experience she describes as “intense, full of fruitful meetings, events, visits, and projects.”

Francophone and expert in strategic communications, Al-Otaiba speaks about the recent state visit of UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to France and discusses the strong links that unite the two countries in the fields of energy, culture, and business.

Her flagship initiative during the past year has been the organization of the Majlons — a series of discussions and debates bringing together French and Emirati experts. She shares the details of the Majlons, a concept that combines Majlis of the Gulf and the salons of Enlightenment in France.

On a more personal note, the envoy reveals her favorite French discoveries and her experiences as an Emirati woman and mother living in France, a country where she feels “at home.”

Q. UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan was on a state visit to France in July, the first one at such a level since 1991. Why was the visit that important and how do you assess its outcome?

The president’s state visit to France was an important milestone in the deep and longstanding relationship between the UAE and France, continuing the legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed’s first presidential visit to France in 1975. It was a highly productive visit, focused on strengthening partnerships and joint investments touching on both the public and private sectors.

Many important issues were raised in discussions, with 10 memoranda of understanding developed covering education, security, culture, and sustainability. The conversations looked to the future, with commitments to innovation in areas such as space exploration and health.

Energy and the future of energy security was a major topic throughout the visit, with a number of valuable discussions looking forward to objectives ahead of COP28 (UN climate change conference) in the UAE next year.

The launch of the UAE-France Business Council, bringing together 18 French and Emirati business leaders to innovate in energy, transport, and investment, is an opportunity to collaborate further.

The UAE and France place particular emphasis on their cultural partnership and in July, Noura Al-Kaabi, the UAE minister of culture and youth, and Rima Abdul Malak, the French minister of culture met to discuss the strong cultural relationship between France and the UAE, reinforcing the partnership built on trust, openness, and dialogue.

Q. Energy was one of the main highlights of the visit, but we also know that diesel is not included into the range of oil products supplied by the UAE to France. Any changes to expect regarding this after the visit?

The sustainability of our future energy is a major shared priority. During the visit, the Comprehensive Strategic Energy Partnership was signed to acknowledge that both countries will focus on improving energy security and climate action, while reducing carbon emissions, ahead of COP28 in the UAE.

A memorandum of understanding on climate action was developed between the office of the UAE special envoy for climate change and the French government.

And it’s also very positive that during the state visit, TotalEnergies and ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.) signed a major deal which includes the provision of diesel fuel by the UAE. This agreement is now being rolled out.

We will continue to work together closely to ensure energy security across a range of areas and technologies.

Q. Post-oil economy is becoming a priority for both France and the UAE: How can your country benefit from the French experience in terms of energy transition to a non-oil economy?

We are constantly learning from each other, partnering to build technologies and systems that will benefit both our countries and others around the globe.

The UAE and France have many strong partnerships focused on energy transition. The Emerge partnership between the UAE’s Masdar (future energy company) and France’s EDF (multinational electric utility firm) looks to the future of solar technology, and they are jointly taking on large projects.

The strategic partnership between ADNOC and TotalEnergies will enable us to explore new opportunities for innovation and growth across the energy value chain. This relationship and many others highlight our commitment to both government partnerships and private-sector collaboration in tackling global energy challenges.

As part of Expo 2020, the UAE worked with Siemens Energy to start the green hydrogen project to explore options for sustainable production of hydrogen. France has committed to working with the UAE on developing hydrogen technology, with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. and EDF signing a 2021 memorandum of understanding to further research and development in this area.

Q. France is today the third-biggest investor in the UAE, how does this translate in different sectors?

France and the UAE benefit from productive investment relationships across numerous sectors. France has a significant presence in the UAE, including in energy, water, and hospitality. The UAE is home to the largest number of French companies in the Middle East, which collectively employ more than 30,000 people.

An important area of partnership is marine transport, where France’s CMA CGM (container transportation and shipping company) has invested in Abu Dhabi Ports to establish a new terminal, which will be a state-of-the-art addition to the growing port.

There is significant collaboration in technology and innovation, with Dubai being named a certified French Tech Hub since 2016, resulting in annual awards to impressive startups. This year, the UAE has launched NextGenFDI to attract further companies and talent, supporting them to launch and scale within the UAE. We expect this to be an exciting opportunity for companies in France and worldwide.




UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan was on a state visit to France in July. (Supplied)

Q. What have been the learnings from the Majlon project experience, this series of events at the embassy, and how does it achieve the objective of strengthening synergies between the two countries?

The embassy’s Majlons, a series of expert-led discussions and debates, draw on traditions from both the UAE and France – the community information-sharing majlis of the Gulf, and the enlightenment-era salon discussions of France.

For example, the interfaith dialogue and peaceful coexistence Majlon focused on the importance of open discussion, with religious representatives coming together to share ideas.

The Majlon series allows true openness and connection between people of different backgrounds and experience. It is a unique opportunity for the people of the UAE and France to learn more about each other’s rich heritage and culture.

Q. How do you see Majlon’s future and are there any future Majlon events that you can announce now?

The Majlon series has been an excellent opportunity to deepen the relationship between the people of the UAE and France, providing participants with the chance to learn more about a range of topics and aspects of our two cultures. The series is a platform for development of initiatives by French and UAE partners, an opportunity to build and seal future partnerships, and to develop projects in various fields.

The future for the Majlon series is bright. Future events will tackle themes such as culture, media, youth, education, and investment opportunities between France and the UAE. We look forward to sharing more information about future events in due course.




Al-Otaiba shared in an interview with Arab News her favorite French discoveries and her experiences as an Emirati woman and mother living in France. (Supplied)

Q. What are the main monuments and events you have visited in France? By which ones have you been the most impressed, and why?

It has been a pleasure to live in France this past year and get to know the country and its culture better. It was very special to be in France for the Bastille Day celebrations on July 14 – it is a magnificent celebration and is a powerful political, historical, and symbolic event in France.

I have had the opportunity to visit many of the beautiful landmarks, monuments, and events that are features of French heritage. Some recent stand-out experiences include my visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, where I saw a strong commitment to arts, culture, and history. Created by Gehry Partners and open since 2014, it is a remarkable place for dialogue and reflection. With a strong emphasis on accessibility to art nationally and internationally, so many people can experience their exhibits, collections, and events.

Another highlight was my wonderful visit to Chateau de Chantilly, home to centuries of history and a hub of French cultural heritage. From the house to the garden and the great stables, we could experience so many pieces of French history.

I also enjoyed my visit to the south of France, in particular the beauty of the paysage. With gorgeous views of nature, architecture, not to mention the French cuisine, it was an enormous pleasure to travel and enjoy the tranquility.

Closer to Paris, I love to visit Fontainebleau, with walks to see the wildlife in Fontainebleau Forest and to appreciate the history of the royal Chateau de Fontainebleau. While there, it is wonderful to visit the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Theater, carefully restored to its former glory and an example of the French commitment to history and heritage.

Q. With the Louvre and the Sorbonne, France has today a strong cultural presence in the UAE. What about the UAE culture in France? Any plans?

There are strong cultural ties between France and the UAE, present in both countries, and there are always projects that are furthering this connection. This has proven invaluable for both Emiratis and the French.

We can see growing awareness and use of the Arabic language in France, as illustrated by the recent agreement between Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) and the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center to cooperate on an Arabic language certificate. This follows similar changes in the UAE to support the teaching of French, with the introduction of French as the third compulsory language in public schools, and the inauguration of a French language radio network.

The Sheikh Zayed center at the Louvre Museum pays tribute to the UAE’s founding father and brings the cultural relationship between the two countries into the heart of Paris.

Other spaces including the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theater further represent the UAE’s commitment to being a part of French restoration and the protection of its heritage. We saw this on show again when six Emirati artists represented the UAE at the Revelations International Biennial in Paris.

We look forward to future opportunities to bring the art, history, and culture of the UAE to the Hexagon.

Q. The Arab world, Islam, and Arab communities are today at the heart of the internal French social-political debate. As an Arab ambassador, are there any specific steps you intend to take to forge better relations between the Arab world (and communities) and France?

Coming from the UAE, I am fortunate to be able to tell stories of our heritage and participate in cross-cultural meetings, allowing others to glimpse the openness and constant advancement happening within the UAE.

There are still misconceptions internationally about life in the UAE, including around the roles of women. One of my objectives for people in France and around the world is to see how many bright, strong women are in leadership positions in the UAE – both in the public and private sectors.

In our government, the participation of women is already very high as women make up 66 percent of the UAE public sector workforce and 50 percent of the Federal National Council’s seats. It is important for people to know that, for these and many other reasons, the UAE ranked first in the Arab world and 18th globally in the UN Development Program’s 2020 Gender Equality Index.

We will continue to build cultural partnerships – allowing residents of both countries to visit and explore each other’s stories, history, art, and architecture.

The Majlon series has been an excellent opportunity to share ideas for the future, while our newly forged business partnerships have been an opportunity for different sectors to learn from each other and create lasting ties.




Al-Otaiba said the Majlon series allows true openness and connection between people of different backgrounds and experience. (Supplied)

Q. How is life in France as an Emirati woman and mother? How is it different from life in the Emirates?

Being in France is a great opportunity for my family to experience a new culture and new ways of life, and it offers us all the chance to explore and learn. Like the UAE, France offers large cities filled with history, beautiful countryside landscapes, and strong international ties.

Although there are differences such as language, history, and climate, there are many similarities including commitment to cultural heritage, openness to discussion, and a willingness to learn from others that make France feel very familiar. I feel lucky to be able to call both countries home.

Q. After spending one year in France, what does this country mean to you today and how would you describe your interaction with the Emirati diaspora?

France is a special and important place to me, with a rich history and many shared values with my homeland. I have enjoyed getting to know the people and places of France, learning about what similarities connect France and the UAE and understanding how we can benefit from our cultural and geographical differences.

It is wonderful to meet with Emirati students and professionals who have travelled and built lives in France. Working in a variety of sectors, Emiratis living in France are both ambassadors of our culture and bring the history, heritage, and values of France back to the UAE. Of particular note are our doctors and frontline workers who worked tirelessly in France throughout the coronavirus pandemic – we are very proud of their contribution. I look forward to future opportunities to speak and meet with Emiratis living in France.

Q. Women are mostly still under-represented in many fields in many Arab countries, how long do you think is the road toward a confirmation of the real leading role of women?

The empowerment of women is a key issue for me. It is an exciting time in many sectors, including for UAE diplomacy where an impressive generation of female leaders have emerged. Women are part of creating our future and embody our country’s values of openness, tolerance, and cooperation.

I am extremely proud of our government for championing and empowering women, recognizing the value of their passion, skills, and education. Like many of my peers, I am committed to supporting the new generation, providing advice, opportunities for mentorship, and support networks.

* This interview was originally published in French on Arab News en Francais


At least 82 people killed in Iran crackdown in Zahedan since Sept 30: Amnesty

At least 82 people killed in Iran crackdown in Zahedan since Sept 30: Amnesty
Updated 18 sec ago

At least 82 people killed in Iran crackdown in Zahedan since Sept 30: Amnesty

At least 82 people killed in Iran crackdown in Zahedan since Sept 30: Amnesty

LONDON: At least 82 people have been killed in Iran as part of a crackdown on protestors in Zahedan since Sept 30, Amnesty International said on Thursday.


Kuwaiti-funded schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon start their 10th academic year

Kuwaiti-funded schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon start their 10th academic year
Updated 06 October 2022

Kuwaiti-funded schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon start their 10th academic year

Kuwaiti-funded schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon start their 10th academic year
  • The pupils thanked the authorities and people of Kuwait for their assistance, which is enabling them to continue their education

BEIRUT: The 10th academic year has started at 12 charity-run schools for Syrian refugees in North Lebanon that were established and are funded by Kuwait.
The pupils thanked the Kuwaiti authorities and people for their assistance, which is enabling them to continue their education, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Wednesday.
It came as a delegation that included representatives of the International Islamic Charitable Organization, the Kuwaiti Society for Humanitarian Excellence, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development visited the schools and reviewed their needs.
The news agency said the pupils organized receptions for the delegates, during which they presented various educational activities.
Khalid Al-Subaihi, chairperson of the Society for Humanitarian Excellence, told the agency that the schools cater to more than 9,000 students and are model examples of what charitable work can achieve. He noted that the grades achieved by pupils at the schools are higher on average than those achieved by their peers in mainstream schools in Northern Lebanon.
He also pointed out that the education of students facing dire situations and with great needs, such as refugees, requires much greater effort than teaching youths in normal circumstances.
Hamid Al-Rifai, a board member of the Excellence Society, said: “We realized the difficulties in teaching these refugees and guiding the teachers 10 years ago, when we started to build the schools with contributions from Kuwaiti philanthropists. We solved the problems facing the learning process and developed the teaching techniques to a higher level.”
Atiq Rafiq, director of the education department at UNICEF’s office in Lebanon, thanked Kuwait for the support it provides to refugees, especially in education.
“I am happy to see that these children are receiving education and attending schools,” he said.
Mohammed Al-Jawabra of the Islamic Solidarity Fund said: “Our visit to the schools reveals the strategic work that affects the life of the refugees, and the requirements and needs of the refugee students.”
He thanked charitable associations and organizations in Kuwait for their contributions and said his organization is proud of those who help in the fight against poverty and efforts to provide education.


Turkey names former Jerusalem envoy as new ambassador to Israel

Turkey names former Jerusalem envoy as new ambassador to Israel
Updated 06 October 2022

Turkey names former Jerusalem envoy as new ambassador to Israel

Turkey names former Jerusalem envoy as new ambassador to Israel
  • A career diplomat with decades of experience, Torunlar was Turkish Consul General in Jerusalem from 2010 until 2013

ANKARA: Turkey appointed Sakir Ozkan Torunlar as its new ambassador to Israel late on Wednesday following a mutual decision taken last month to restore full diplomatic ties, two Turkish foreign ministry officials said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu briefed Torunlar on Wednesday night as part of the ministry’s new appointments abroad, the officials told Reuters.
A career diplomat with decades of experience, Torunlar was Turkish Consul General in Jerusalem from 2010 until 2013.
Israel has already named Irit Lillian as its next ambassador to Ankara.
Relations between Turkey and Israel have been rocky since 2011, when Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador following a 2010 Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara aid ship to Gaza, which killed nine Turkish citizens.
The rift healed when full diplomatic relations were restored in 2016 and the two countries exchanged ambassadors.
Tensions escalated again in 2018 when Israeli forces killed a number of Palestinians who had taken part in the “March of Return” protests in the Gaza Strip.
Turkey recalled all diplomats and ordered Israeli envoys to leave the country.
The latest developments come five months after Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Ankara as part of his first visit to Turkey by an Israeli leader since 2008.


Iran authorities ‘fire at crowds’ using shotguns, rifles, says rights group

Iran authorities ‘fire at crowds’ using shotguns, rifles, says rights group
Updated 06 October 2022

Iran authorities ‘fire at crowds’ using shotguns, rifles, says rights group

Iran authorities ‘fire at crowds’ using shotguns, rifles, says rights group
  • Human Rights Watch demands international pressure to end regime violence

LONDON: New evidence shows that Iranian security forces continue to use lethal force against peaceful protesters around the country, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned.

Through videos captured by demonstrators and reporters, as well as interviews with witnesses and security officials, HRW uncovered evidence of the use of excessive and lethal force in more than a dozen cities around Iran.

Weapons including shotguns and assault rifles were deployed against protesters during the security response to the demonstrations, which began last month in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was killed by a mob after “improperly” wearing the hijab after President Ibrahim Raisi strengthened laws on the headdress.

Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Iranian authorities’ brutal response to protests across many cities indicates concerted action by the government to crush dissent with cruel disregard for life. The security forces’ widespread shooting of protesters only serves to fuel anger against a corrupt and autocratic government.

“People in Iran are protesting because they do not see the death of Mahsa Amini and the authorities’ crackdown as an isolated event, but rather the latest example of the government’s systematic repression of its own people.”

A 35-year-old woman from Sanandaj city told HRW: “We had gathered to chant when security forces on motorcycles came toward us.

“We ran toward the alley as they followed us and started throwing tear gas and some started shooting bullets. A man behind us was shot in the leg and fell on the ground. People dragged him into another alley and inside someone’s home. His wound was bleeding very heavily and was very deep.”

At least four videos reviewed by HRW show security forces using shotguns against crowds of protesters.

Another witness said: “Security forces ran toward a 13-year-old boy who was standing among the crowd.

“He was so delicate and small that he didn’t even resist. He was on the grass protecting his head while they were beating him. I yelled ‘Leave him alone!’ and walked towards them. They fired in the air and people started fleeing while they dragged the boy across the street.

“While I was running, I kept yelling ‘He is my brother!’, thinking that was going to provoke their mercy. I saw an officer turning, sitting down, and aiming at me. I saw the fire from his weapon. I got scared and ran away. I had a burning sensation until I got home and realized that I was hit in my chest.”

The human rights organization has gathered a list of 47 people who died during the violence as a result of lethal force, many having been shot.

However, HRW said that the true number of deaths is likely far higher than Iranian state media has reported. At the end of September, state television claimed that the death toll stood at about 60.


Judge fines Lebanese bank heist figure, issues travel ban

Judge fines Lebanese bank heist figure, issues travel ban
Updated 06 October 2022

Judge fines Lebanese bank heist figure, issues travel ban

Judge fines Lebanese bank heist figure, issues travel ban
  • Sali Hafiz last month broke into a BLOM Bank branch with activists from the Depositors’ Outcry
  • Hafiz was widely celebrated as a hero, and went into hiding for weeks

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge on Thursday fined and issued a six-month travel ban to a woman who stormed her bank with a fake pistol and took her trapped savings to cover her sister’s cancer treatment.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks have imposed strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency since 2019, tying up the savings of millions of people. About three-quarters of the population has slipped into poverty as the tiny Mediterranean country’s economy continues to spiral. The Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar.
Sali Hafiz last month broke into a BLOM Bank branch in Beirut with activists from the Depositors’ Outcry protest group, and stormed into the manager’s office. They forced bank employees to hand over $12,000 and the equivalent of about $1,000 in Lebanese pounds.
Hafiz was widely celebrated as a hero, and went into hiding for weeks.
Her lawyer, Ali Abbas, said that Hafiz turned herself in Wednesday night, and that the bank had pressed charges. Another sister involved in the heist was with Sali.
“The judge decided to let them go on a bail of 1 million pounds each, and a six-month travel ban,” Abbas said in a phone interview from the Justice Palace.
One million Lebanese pounds was once worth over $666, but has since devalued to $25.
Following the incident last month, the Depositors’ Outcry had vowed to support more bank raids, and about a dozen of similar incidents have since occurred.
On Wednesday, Lebanese lawmaker Cynthia Zarazir staged a sit-in at her bank branch with a lawyer, demanding to withdraw $8,500 to cover expenses for a surgery.
These developments have rocked the Lebanese banks, who say they have been unjustly targeted for tiny Mediterranean country’s fiscal crisis. The Association of Banks in Lebanon temporarily closed for a week, before partially reopening last week, citing security concerns.
Lebanon for over two years has been struggling to implement a series of reforms to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program and make its battered economy viable again.