The relations with the West play a key role in the foreign politics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, especially, with France, which is constantly confirmed by the growing amount of the trade turnover, scientific, cultural and military cooperation agreements. KSA is a member of the world’s leading banking and financial institutions and specialized organizations, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), its entry into which was finalized in November 2005, and its cooperation with the Western countries became the priority of the Saudi Kingdom.
At the same time, the open European-Saudi dialogue doesn`t oppose the conservative strategy of the Saudi foreign policy that it leads in the Middle East, on the contrary it positions Riyadh as a progressive state, which observes and respects the traditions. In contrast to the relations with the rest of the world, complemented with the current issues of the democratization and human rights observance, KSA cooperates intensively on overcoming other challenges, such as stability and security with the European Union in general, and France in particular, which determines, along with many other circumstances the stable functioning of the global perspective in the diplomatic relations between the Europe and the Gulf.
The Franco-Saudi relations started in 1996 in a frame of the “strategic partnership.” This partnership is not limited to the strengthening of the longstanding cooperation on the regional issues or the world affairs, neither it treats exclusively the trade issues, it can rather be described as the mutually beneficial and practically oriented.
Trust and friendship that characterize the relationship between the President of the French Republic, Francois Hollande, and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz, strengthen ties between two countries. The visit of the King, then Crown Prince, in April 2005 in Paris testifies brilliantly this fact.
The visit to Riyadh of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Vedrine in October 2001 was followed by the President in November 2001. This cooperation was reinforced when it was rejected to confuse Islam with terrorism by the French side. His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Saudi visited the Evian G8 in June 2003. In addition, ongoing relationships are set up between the National Assembly and the French Senate on the one hand and the Majlis Al-Shura with regular visits of the delegations.
The cultural, scientific and technical exchanges between France and Saudi Arabia were formalized by the Cooperation Agreement signed on 7 July 1963, which expressed, by their quality and diversity, the shared concern to maintain and develop exchanges in the humanitarian area.
An essential part of the technical cooperation of the Franco-Saudi relations constitutes the health field. France and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement under which approximately 50 fellows from the Saudi government, who are specialized in medicine have been attending the French universities each year since 2005. Currently, the Saudi Ministry of the Higher Education is considering sending 500 fellows of all disciplines to prepare the Master or PhD degrees annually in France.
As it was wisely mentioned by Jean-Francois Seznec in his article published in the journal “Mashreq Maghreb Arab world,” the Saudi Interior Ministry is already playing an essential role in the security of the Kingdom and it works out alongside with France the new security architecture of the bilateral military relations in addition to the import of the array of the European sophisticated weapons that would equip tomorrow the Saudi armed forces. By its constantly evolving organization, the Ministry of the Interior may, in fact, already count well on the firmness of the French support. It has, in addition to the smart intelligence, the anti-terrorist units of around 1,200 men, nearly 10,500 border guards and 15,000 police officers who are located at the forefront of the KSA fighting against terrorism, which undoubtedly make Riyadh as a leading ally in the cooperation against terrorism.
KSA has chosen the way of reforms in what it concerns the human rights issues. The King Abdullah has given many signs of his firm determination in this field. As a strong example: the status of women and their place in the Saudi society, including the economy. It should be noted that more and more highly qualified women obtain access to the leadership positions in KSA. We can also talk about the gender mixing classes in some universities … So, there is genuine manifestation of the will to democratize the Saudi civil society.
The human rights issue in KSA doesn`t only mean the control against the terrorist threats, the assurance that the country is constantly modernizing and that its growing strong civil society, sometimes for such a country as Saudi Arabia it can also have much more practical meaning, for instance, the assurance of the regular transport carriers between the most deserted places of the kingdom and its capital, Medinah and, of course, Mekka; it also signifies the daily provision of the drinking water for its cities; as well as the duly organized work of the large cities infrastructure and many other factors, which are often taken for granted in the European capitals. That`s why it takes time to organize these inner issues before attempting to tackle seriously the human rights affairs, about which Europe talks.
Saudi Arabia is the 14th largest trading partner of France. Since the accession of Saudi Arabia to the WTO in 2005, there have appeared more benefits for the French companies to settle there. And it has also become a country where KSA has strong commercial presence. In the matters of defense, KSA and France are strategic partners. With industrial development set off in the Kingdom but also major equipment projects, new opportunities are emerging and they are huge for the bilateral investment.
But it is essential for France to be well positioned in this regard, Paris has always supported Riyadh in the context of their bilateral cooperation. Therefore, the questions of the tourism exchange has only recently been seriously. Whereas, the Saudi tourists often visit France, the French visitors, especially females, haven`t till recently had the free access to the Kingdom. Moreover, the Saudis are becoming aware of their tourism potential only now. One should know that up to present the tourism in KSA was banned but now the situation has positively changed.
The bilateral political relations are close and dense. The President visited three times in Saudi Arabia since his election (January and November 2008, November 2009). King Abdullah visited him in June 2007. Idrac went to Riyadh on 2 and 3 November 2009. Saudi Minister of Commerce and Industry, Dr. Ali Reza Zeinal, went to France at the invitation of Ms. Lagarde, in mid-January 2010. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, governor of Mecca, met Mr. Larcher in March and Mr Mitterrand represented in March, the government at the opening of the festival Janadriya, where France was guest of honor . Mr. Morin went to Riyadh on the 5th and 6th June 2010. The Prince Saud Al-Faisal came to inaugurate July 13, 2010, with Mr. Kouchner, the major exhibition “Roads of Arabia” at the Louvre
Saudi Arabia is the strong ally and the trustful partner of France often being considered as the symbol of peace in the Gulf as well as all around the Muslim world. The both states share rich history of the mutual exchanges and beneficial cooperation, so the good quality of these relations serves the interests of both.
- R. Bronson, Thicker Than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia, Oxford University Press, 2008, p.382