During the past hours, Macron arrived in Saudi Arabia as part of a Gulf tour that included Qatar and the UAE. Macron met the crown prince in the city of Jeddah on the Red Sea, on the last leg of his two-day Gulf tour.
Thus, Macron is one of the first Western leaders to meet Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
For three years, the leaders of Western countries, according to the British Guardian newspaper, avoided direct meeting with the Saudi crown prince, including US President Joe Biden, whose administration had announced that it would limit its communication with Riyadh through King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Observers consider that Macron’s visit is a milestone for the crown prince, and that it will contribute to attempts to help him repair the damage caused to his international standing since he was accused of killing Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Ayham Kamel, director of the Middle East and North Africa department at Eurasia Group, believes that part of Macron’s visit to Jeddah is to help rehabilitate the crown prince internationally.
The researcher at the Geneva Center for International Studies, Nasser Zuhair, confirmed that Macron’s visit will encourage many European leaders and leaders to hold direct meetings with the Saudi Crown Prince during the coming period.
In an interview with Al-Hurra website, Zuhair added that international relations and interests do not stop at such issues.
Khashoggi, 59, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October 2018, in a crime that shook world public opinion, while Riyadh denied any involvement of the crown prince in the case.
And last February, US intelligence agencies published a report that said they believed Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing of Khashoggi.
On Friday, Macron said that it was necessary to dialogue with Saudi Arabia, “the first Gulf country in terms of size”, to be able to “work on the stability of the region.”
But he added, “This does not mean that we are satisfied,” referring to the Khashoggi murder case. “I note that Saudi Arabia organized the G20 summit the year after (Khashoggi’s murder) and I did not notice that many powers boycotted the G20,” Macron added.
“We have always been clear on the issue of human rights or this issue,” the French president emphasized.
And Bruce Riedel, a researcher in the Brookings Intelligence Project, said during an interview with the Guardian that the meeting between the two men would give French approval to Mohammed bin Salman towards his policy “and his war in Yemen.” Riedel stressed that this visit removes the last manifestation of Western rejection of Saudi behavior in Yemen, as he put it.
A political analyst specializing in European affairs, Muhammad Kalshi, believes that the world has bypassed the Khashoggi case in its relations with the Kingdom, noting that the issue, despite its importance, has become the second most important issue compared to other international issues that have presented themselves on the international scene.
In his interview with Al-Hurra, Kalashi stated that this visit has nothing to do with the Khashoggi case, but rather deals with regional and international issues, stressing that Saudi Arabia has bypassed this issue.
And the former advisor to the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Salem Al-Yami, confirmed that the Crown Prince during the past months had made many contacts with a number of world leaders, stressing that what was preventing his travel was the outbreak of the Corona epidemic.
In his interview with Al-Hurra, Al-Yami added that the Kingdom has hosted during the past months many international conferences and summits attended by world leaders, stressing that with every European visit to the Kingdom, human rights issues are raised in an attempt to thwart the visit.
human rights criticism
Rights groups have criticized Macron’s visit. “Whatever the strategic interest of France in Saudi Arabia, nothing can justify giving legitimacy to a ruler who kills journalists, threatens activists and imprisons women human rights defenders,” said Agnes Callamard, a French national who serves as Amnesty International’s Secretary General, objecting to the meeting between the two leaders. “.
Human Rights Watch criticized French arms sales to the region, and said Macron should speak out about human rights violations during his visit to some Gulf Arab countries.
The researcher at the Geneva Center stressed that the main purpose of this visit is for France to present itself as a reliable player in the Middle East through economic and defense relations, and the conclusion of arms deals, especially with the “US trend to reduce its presence in the Middle East.”
He pointed out that Macron is seeking to strengthen French-Saudi relations and try to solve the Gulf-Lebanese crisis.
The researcher expected that other European leaders would follow Macron’s example, in visiting the Kingdom during the coming period, and meeting the Saudi Crown Prince.