Macron receives the Saudi crown prince, who continues his “rehabilitation” after the Khashoggi affair

Macron receives the Saudi crown prince, who continues his “rehabilitation” after the Khashoggi affair

It is his first visit to Europe since the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and it passes through France: Mohammed bin Salman has dinner on Thursday with Emmanuel Macron, arousing the anger of human rights defenders.

This meeting is a further sign of the “rehabilitation” of the Saudi Crown Prince, less than two weeks after the visit of US President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia, which definitively consecrated the return of “MBS” on the international scene, in a context of war in Ukraine and soaring energy prices.

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 we learned from a government source. His arrival, however, had not been confirmed Thursday morning.

Traveling to Africa, from which he will return Thursday afternoon, Emmanuel Macron will receive MBS a few hours later for a “working dinner”, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. in Paris (6:30 p.m. GMT) at the Elysée, said the French presidency in a communicated.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) on December 4, 2021 (Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/Archives – Bandar AL-JALOUD)

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.

– “Outcast” –

“But there, 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 ‘hears,’ 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 portrait of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2020 (AFP/Archives - Ozan KOSE)
The portrait of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2020 (AFP/Archives – Ozan KOSE)

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.

If the “fist bump”, fist to fist, exchanged between the two men in Jeddah during the visit of Mr. Biden sealed the return of the American president on his campaign promise to treat the kingdom as a “pariah”, the first MBS’s move within the European Union goes badly with human rights defenders.

“The visit of MBS to France and of Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia does not change the fact that MBS is none other than a killer”, lamented to AFP Agnès Callamard, who had led an investigation into the assassination. of Jamal Khashoggi when she was the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanges a fist-to-fist salute with US President Joe Biden on July 15, 2022 in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/Archives - Bandar AL-JALOUD)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanges a fist-to-fist salute with US President Joe Biden on July 15, 2022 in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/Archives – Bandar AL-JALOUD)

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”.

His return to favor with Western heads of state is “all the more shocking since 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”.

– ‘Pragmatism’ –

Because less than four years after the Khashoggi affair, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24 caused a panic in energy prices.

Western countries have since sought to convince Saudi Arabia, the leading exporter of crude, to open the floodgates in order to relieve the markets and limit inflation.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Athens on July 26, 2022 (AFP - Louisa GOULIAMAKI)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Athens on July 26, 2022 (AFP – Louisa GOULIAMAKI)

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,” notes Camille Lons, associate researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It gives them political leverage which they will use to reassert their importance on the international stage.”

As for Western countries, they compete in “pragmatism”, she notes. And in the face of “exploding energy prices, (…) clearly, human rights in Saudi Arabia are no longer really the priority on the agenda.”

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