Saudi Arabia, France in new era of close cooperation

Fahad M Al-Ruwaily

The French people on Wednesday celebrate their country’s National Day, with the whole world joining them in commemorating this great occasion. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my most heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to the French Republic and the French people and wish them continuous progress and prosperity.
This is an exceptional occasion for me, as I am in Paris for this event for the first time as the Saudi ambassador to France, and it is undoubtedly my great pleasure to congratulate my French friends as ambassador.
I attended this event for the first time in 1985, as a student studying the French language and civilization for the summer at the University of Nice. As a diplomat near France for many years — in Belgium and then the Netherlands — I happened to be in the country on its national day several times. France was one of our favorite holiday destinations, with its beautiful nature and evolving culture.

French-Saudi relations are long-standing and historical. They started in the 1920s, solidified over the years into relations of close friendship and cooperation, and have been marked by a substantial shift in a variety of areas in recent years. Saudi Vision 2030, which was launched in 2016, illustrates the view of the Kingdom’s wise leadership and the aspirations of its people for a sustainable and prosperous future. This vision has given Saudi Arabia broad scope to enhance cooperation with several friends in the areas of science, the transfer of technologies, and the creation of partnerships in the knowledge community.
Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and France is broad, diverse and constantly evolving on the bilateral and multilateral levels.

On the bilateral level, diplomatic relations started early and have solidified since the meeting of King Faisal and French President Charles de Gaulle in 1967, when the two countries’ cooperation became stronger and more advanced. They have reached their peak with the reign of King Salman, as a new phase of strategic partnership and close cooperation has begun. These relations were strengthened by several important visits, such as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s trip to France in April 2018, which built significant momentum toward a strategic partnership that includes all political, economic and cultural aspects.

On the cultural level, France is among the world’s leading cultures and is an undisputed pioneer in several areas. The Kingdom has been keen to develop its cultural cooperation with France. It is difficult to highlight the cooperation between the two countries in this area in one article, but there is one example that reflects this cooperation and its future potential: The project to develop AlUla in the northwest of the Kingdom.
AlUla expands over a vast area that is close to the size of Belgium. It is rich with great antiquities, with some of them dating back 7,000 years, in addition to its diverse landscape and amazing rock formations. The agreement with the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula) covers integrated work over 10 years, including the comprehensive development of the region’s infrastructure in order to prepare it for tourism related to the economic, cultural and environmental aspects and to develop the human resources required to manage it, as well as invest its resources in modern ways that meet with sustainable development and the requirements of its environment and wildlife. AlUla, which is in a distinctive location in between three large continents, has been described by experts as the region that will become the largest living museum in the world.

One of the most recent aspects of French-Saudi cultural cooperation was last month’s signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Saudi Culinary Arts Authority and the famous Parisian Le Cordon Bleu cooking school to establish an institution that teaches Saudi and world culinary arts in the Kingdom. Furthermore, the Arab World Institute this month held in Paris a cultural event dedicated to showcasing recently produced Saudi films, with the sponsorship of the Red Sea Film Festival. The evening was attended by a large audience of French cinema and arts fans. Moreover, the Kingdom is this year participating in the Cannes Film Festival for the first time, showcasing a number of new Saudi movies. The Saudi delegation participating in the festival will view cinematic experiences from different countries and meet with world pioneers in film on the sidelines of the festival.

Cooperation between the countries is broad, diverse and constantly evolving on the bilateral and multilateral levels.
As for the multilateral level, both France and Saudi Arabia are members of several organizations and international agreements. They participate in a number of conferences, in which they exchange support and cooperation with other nations in pursuit of a world where security, stability and well-being prevail. An example of this is Saudi Arabia and France’s membership of the G20 group, which was chaired by the Kingdom during its highly successful summit in 2020. This summit aimed to enhance global cooperation in order to combat the coronavirus pandemic and help needy countries face the virus and alleviate its devastating economic impact on citizens. It also saw member states constructively engage in enhancing global security and peace, and similarly in the areas of sustainable development, the environment and climate, culture, and education.

There is no doubt there are numerous promising areas for future cooperation that are in the interests of both countries and their friendly people. On this occasion, I would like to refer to the virtual workshop organized by Saudi Aramco and Business France I attended last week, along with more than 100 French business representatives. The workshop demonstrated the vast opportunities to enhance trade and investment cooperation between the two countries, as well as their potential and their aspirations to expand this cooperation in the future.
Once again, I would like to wish a happy national day to the French Republic and the French people and congratulate them.
The writer is a columnist