This meeting signs a little more the “rehabilitation” of Mohammed ben Salmane. Less than two weeks after US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi crown prince implicated in the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi will have dinner with Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.
Greeted at the airport by Bruno Le Maire
Mohammed ben Salmane, who had started his mini-European tour in Greece, was expected Wednesday afternoon at Paris Orly airport, where the French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire was to welcome him, said learned AFP from a government source. However, his arrival had not been confirmed on Thursday morning.
Traveling to Africa, from which he will return this Thursday afternoon, Emmanuel Macron will receive MBS a few hours later for a “working dinner”, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at the Elysee, said the French presidency in a press release.
A first in Europe since 2018
The de facto ruler of the kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman, was ostracized by Western countries after the 2018 murder of critical Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
“Macron had already done most of the rehabilitation work by visiting MBS himself” in Riyadh last December, observes Quentin de Pimodan, expert on the Sunni kingdom at the Research Institute for European and American Studies, interviewed by the AFP.
A three-step rehabilitation
“But here, we reach another level. He arrives in France, Macron is not there. MBS no longer takes the tweezers at all that he could have taken a year or two ago. He moves as he wants, ”he continues.
And to affirm: “Macron has started and Biden has completed the rehabilitation, with Johnson in the meantime”, the future ex-British Prime Minister having also visited Riyadh last March.
The American intelligence services had pointed to the responsibility of Mohammed bin Salman in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, poisoning relations between Riyadh and Washington.
“MBS is none other than a killer”
If the “fist bump”, fist to fist, exchanged between the two men in Jeddah during the visit of Joe Biden sealed the return of the American president on his campaign promise to treat the kingdom as a “pariah”, the first trip of MBS within the European Union goes badly among human rights defenders.
“The visits of MBS to France and Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia do not change the fact that MBS is nothing but a killer,” lamented AFP Agnès Callamard, who had conducted an investigation into the incident. assassination of Jamal Khashoggi when she was UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.
And the director for France of Human Rights Watch, Bénédicte Jeannerod, tackled on Twitter “MBS can apparently count on Emmanuel Macron to rehabilitate him on the international scene despite the atrocious murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the ruthless repression of the Saudi authorities against any criticism, war crimes in Yemen”.
MBS can apparently count on Emmanuel Macron to rehabilitate him on the international stage despite the atrocious murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi authorities’ ruthless crackdown on any criticism, war crimes in Yemen https://t.co/tQMxaei9nt
— Benedicte Jeannerod (@BenJeannerod) July 27, 2022
His return to favor with Western heads of state is “all the more shocking as many of them at the time expressed their disgust (for the murder) and their commitment not to bring MBS back into the international community”. , she added, denouncing “two weights, two measures”.
Convince Saudi Arabia to open the floodgates
Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24 and the panic in energy prices, Western countries have been trying to convince Saudi Arabia, the leading exporter of crude oil, to open the floodgates in order to relieve the markets and limit inflation.
But Ryad is resisting pressure from its allies, citing its commitments to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+), the oil alliance it co-leads with Moscow.
In May, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud said the kingdom had done what it could for the oil market.
“The war in Ukraine has put energy-producing countries back in the spotlight, and they are benefiting from it,” remarks Camille Lons, associate researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It gives them political leverage that they will use to reassert their importance on the international stage. »
As for Western countries, they compete in “pragmatism”, she notes. And faced with “exploding energy prices, (…) clearly, human rights in Saudi Arabia are no longer really the priority on the agenda. »
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