France has a voice that one listens to, or at least consults. Especially in a turbulent region like the Middle-East, where lie many problems and solutions to the contemporary conflicts. That’s why Opinion Internationale animates the rubric “In the middle, bridges and solutions with the Middle East” and is going to get more involved, editorially, in this region.
The official visit to Paris of his Highness Tamim ben Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, on the 6th of July for a meeting with President Macron, is meaningful. A few weeks after Mohammad Bin Salman’s visit (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s new leader, the French President is hosting on of the leaders of the Arab Peninsula.
There’s no doubt that the two heads of state will talk about football. Granted, one prefers the PSG (he even owns the club and he was a staunch supporter during his studies) while the other one is a Marseille fan. But they will probably watch the quarter final together, where France will be up against Uruguay, after their lunch and common press conference. And they will speak French to each other, as the emir of Qatar is french-speaking, and has his kids enrolled in a French school, which has become too rare today amongst the great leaders of this world.
More seriously, Qatar is a key country in the region but also in France.
In the region? The Israeli press revealed last weekend that Qatar was carrying out an indirect dialogue between the Hamas and Israel. While this mediation posture is a problem for some, it remains a great indicator of the strategic role played by this small country, which has become in 20 years an emerging power.
Qatar participates actively to the anti-terrorism struggle and to the international military cooperation, shares more and more information and contributes to raising sovereign wealth funds for the mitigation of climate change. Is it a surprise if, a few hours after his meeting with the emir, Macron will preside an event of mobilisation of sovereign wealth funds for the struggle against climate change, following the “One Planet Summit”?
Finally, Qatar has recently become a candidate for the status of observer at the NATO. An active geopolitical role, which says a lot on Qatar’s ambitions.
In 20 years, Qatar has turned into an international economic power and has some good reasons to look far ahead. The country actually unveiled its vision 2030 plan.
A country that likes to discuss with everyone
We’ve been writing this for quite a long time : if an analogy had to be drawn, we could say that Qatar is like France, insofar as its voice resonates beyond its real power and it likes discussing with everyone, even the least reputables. It’s actually in the very nature of the diplomatic and political exercice to listen to all the point of views.
Qatar, it’s also a worldwide TV channel, which gives a voice to everyone, from the most conservative imams to Israel’s right-wing. Al-Jazeera has covered the Arab Springs, while the Saudi clergy (there is no Qatari clergy) was urging the people to go back home and respect the powers in place.
Is Qatar accused of backing the Muslim Brothers ? Qataris have discussed with them, that is sure. Is Qatar close to Turkey ? It is not that sure. But the religious, or politico-religious tenet of the Emirate, if ever there is one, is at the opposite of its Saudi neighbor’s wahhabism.
Qatar has its own and sovereign strategy. And it raises problems amongst its neighbors (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt), which have imposed a blocus over the small country on the 5th of June 2017. This warlike act has actually strengthened the independent spirit of the Emirate. Nonetheless, Qatar is willing to discuss and solve the dispute, which harms everyone and blocks the regional institution, the Gulf Cooperation Council.
In an interview for Le Point, Lolwah El Khater, spokeswoman of Qatar’s ministry of foreign affairs declared : “Our only solution is to facilitate peace, by all means, even though all the countries in the region have different interests. We’ve always believed that dialogue couldn’t be runned by weapons if we seek for the prosperity of the region. Our countries will be stronger if we cooperate.” She added: “France, Kuwait and the USA have tried to put an end to the crisis. And we are thankful for that. The President Trump himself, and his ministers, have made it clear that they want it to end”.
France, while waiting for the European Union to step in, is actively supporting the mediation led by Kuwait. The ambassador Bertrand Besancenot has been appointed diplomatic advisor of the President, to bolster Kuwait’s efforts.
In an article published by L’Opinion, the deputies Maurice Leroy, Gwendal Rouillard, Naima Moutchou, Bertrand Sorre and Jérôme Lambert declare : “the emir’s visit shows a common will to solve the crisis with the help of Paris. Not only France is in constant dialogue with the mediators, but it also applies direct pressures to re-establish the open sky between all the GCC countries, reunite families and put an end to the embargo.”
There is no doubt that on Friday, the two heads of state will talk about this thorny issue. Let us dare suggesting to the President Macron to take a strong initiative. Like the recent press conference on Libya, a multilateral meeting in Paris, co-presided by France and Kuwait, would be welcome.
Qatar is a key country in the Middle-East and in France
The rivalry between Qatar and its neighbors can go as far as disrupting the French political life… Some of us are even fascinated by MBS (and its billion dollars)… How to understand the sad vote of french members of the European Parliament (Nadine Morano, Rachida Dati and Michèle Alliot-Marie, three ex ministers of the Republic, but also Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, Marc Joulaud and Jérôme Lavrilleux) that nobody talked about ? Against the view of their political group, the EPP, they abstained on the 31st of May on the resolution RC-B8-0259/2018. Fortunately, the text was approved by a vast majority of MPs, denouncing the arrest of seven feminist activists in Saudi Arabia. Michèle Alliot-Marie has even maintained her position whilst her colleagues changed their mind on the next day. France has nothing to be proud of ! This text conveyed the message that allowing Saudi women to drive and opening a cinema in Riyad is not enough to give freedom to those women. One thing is sure : it’s better to be a Qatari woman than a Saudi woman.
Qatar is a strategic economic actor in France. The PSG is just the tip of the iceberg. The Emirate, observer at the International Organization of la Francophonie (IOF), has invested in companies like Airbus, Lagardère and Accorhotels. According to the Quai d’Orsay: “France remains a privileged place for Qatar’s foreign investments, along with the UK, Germany and the USA” (Qataris’ investments in France represented 25 billion dollars in 2016). The President Macron will certainly encourage his Qatari peer to keep on investing to support his combat for employment.
Let us finish this overview how it started… On the 15th of July, Macron will be in Moscow. France will have reached the final and will win the FIFA world cup. Thus, our dear President will witness the handing on between President Vladimir Poutine and his Highness Tamim ben Hamad Al Thani.
Because on the 16th of July, the Emirate is going to reach another dimension, as it will start preparing the 2022 FIFA world cup. The most renown event in terms of TV audience and popular passion will take place in Qatar. Enough to arouse the panic of some observers and the resentment of some neighbors. There is no doubt that Qatar will strengthen its soft power and will become inevitable on the international stage.
For all these reasons, France can play the card of Qatar while consolidating its good relationships in the Middle-East.