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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has decided to host the leader of oil-rich Saudi Arabia for dinner in Paris, days after lecturing African leaders for failing to stand up to tyranny around the world.
On Thursday evening, Macron receives Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, at the Elysée Palace for a working dinner. The invitation drew strong criticism from all quarters.
Some question Macron’s hypocrisy in lending his political capital to help rehabilitate the de facto Saudi leader who was widely condemned following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The brutal murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Saudi agents used a bone saw to dismember the body sent shock waves through the international community.
The crown prince’s French visit is part of his first trip to Europe since the murder – which is believed to have been ordered by bin Salman himself.
“There is no excuse to give this man a pass, receive him and roll out the red carpet for him as if none of this is happening,” said Ahmed Benchemsi of the NGO Human Rights Watch, saying reference to ongoing human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. .
Khashoggi’s bride, Hatice Cenzig, Told At AFP, she was “outraged that Emmanuel Macron receives with all honors the executioner of my fiancé”.
For Macron, the shifting couldn’t be more shocking. During his four-day trip to Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau, Macron raged against Russia’s “global hybrid war” that used information, energy and food as weapons, and lectured African leaders on “their hypocrisy” in refusing to take sides on the war in Ukraine.
“Russia is one of the last imperial colonial powers – it decides to invade a neighboring country to defend its interests,” he said in Benin on Wednesday. During the visit, Macron hoped to restore relations with French-speaking African countries and warn them against falling under the despotic influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But back in Paris, Macron is set to break bread at the presidential palace with one of the Middle East’s most reviled leaders, who has also come under heavy criticism over the war in Yemen. where he is accused of using starvation as a weapon. of war.
The Élysée denied that Macron had two faces in his approach to diplomacy. “It’s not about being hypocritical, it’s about being efficient,” an Elysee official said ahead of the visit.
“The president wants to weigh in and be useful, try to solve the problems that France and Europe are facing and help de-escalate [regional] crises … and the only way to do that is to talk to everyone,” he said.
Last December, Macron became the first Western leader to visit the crown prince, using his stature to pave the way for bin Salman’s return to the international fold. The war in Ukraine and the West’s scramble for alternative energy sources has accelerated MBS’s return to the global diplomatic order after years of efforts to isolate the crown prince.
US President Joe Biden, who three years ago vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “global pariah”, was pictured punching the crown prince during a visit to Jeddah last month. This week, bin Salman received a red carpet during a visit to Greece, which concluded with the signing of several bilateral agreements.
wallow in oil
The dinner date at the Elysee Palace also provoked fury from Macron’s vocal opposition, from both ends of the political spectrum.
“The government’s energy policy is knocking us off a precipice and they are ready to do anything to keep wallowing in oil,” said Sandrine Rousseau, Green MP from the left-wing coalition NUPES, citing human rights abuses, the treatment of women and Saudi Arabia. Arabian War in Yemen.
Opponents on the right have accused the president of being inconsistent and only taking a moral stance when it suits him.
“It proves that the only thing that matters is realpolitik… At least we admit that realpolitik is what we do, we don’t pretend,” said Jean-Philippe Tanguy, MP for the National Rally. right-wing extremist Marine Le Pen, pointing to sanctions against Russia as an example of what he called Macron’s “moral diplomacy”.
“As long as we are led by [the current government] who uses morality to have an agenda that is not moral at all, we will be in the absurd position of saying that Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian leader, which is true, and that the Saudi prince is our friend,” said Tanguy.
The meeting comes as Macron and other Western leaders struggle to become independent of Moscow by obtaining energy from alternative suppliers amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. But that hunt for energy providers with clean records on issues like human rights and climate is proving impossible, as many of the world’s major oil-rich countries remain poor on those fronts.
Earlier this month, Macron received the President of the United Arab Emirates in Paris, with whom he signed a diesel supply agreement.
Diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia – the world’s largest oil exporter – are key for Macron as he tries to drive down oil prices, including by pressuring OPEC countries to increase production of oil.
Earlier this month, bin Salman said Saudi Arabia would not be able to increase its production capacity beyond 13 million barrels per day by 2027, and warned against “unrealistic” environmental policies that harm fossil fuels.
The talks with Saudi Arabia are part of broader efforts to find alternative energy suppliers that put Western countries – which often portray themselves as human rights defenders – between a rock and a hard place. Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Azerbaijan where she struck a deal doubling Europe’s gas supply and called the country “trustworthy”. The decision was criticized by human rights groups and deputieswho pointed the finger at President Ilham Aliyev’s corruption scandals and human rights abuses.
“Not raising any of these issues in the name of economic interests is called cynicism,” said Benchemsi of Human Rights Watch. “It is to drop these values that Western governments, including France, claim to defend.”