French President Emmanuel Macron was accused of putting politics before human rights over the weekend as he became the first major western leader to visit Saudi Arabia since the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Mr Macron ended his Gulf tour on Saturday having made steps towards bringing Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman back in from the diplomatic cold and securing France’s largest ever weapons deal with the UAE – Saudi’s main ally in the Yemen war.
Securing the deal and strengthening France’s role in the energy-rich region had been a key target of his visit after the controversy over a scrapped submarine deal with Australia in September.
“Macron [is] trying to rehabilitate the man who tortured my sister, killed Khashoggi, cut his body into pieces, [and] created the worst humanitarian crisis in a neighboring country…” said Lina al-Hathloul, the sister of prominent Saudi womens’ rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. “But all good, Macron has upcoming elections and needs his deals done,” she added.
Major western leaders have avoided visiting Saudi Arabia since the murder of Mr Khashoggi at the consulate in Istanbul. Earlier this year, the Biden administration released intelligence linking the crown prince to the murder, and has refused to deal with him directly since he took office.
France – alongside the UK and the US – has also faced scrutiny over its continued arms deals because of the war that Saudi is waging in Yemen.
The Saudis will be hoping that Mr Macron’s visit will boost the image of the kingdom after it was severely tarnished by the murder of Mr Khashoggi. The timing for them could not be better: Mr Macron’s visit coincided with the inaugural Grand Prix on Saudi soil on Sunday.
Formula One has also come under significant criticism for choosing to host the tournament in the kingdom, with activists claiming that it buys into the Saudi regime’s tatic of “sportswashing” its human rights record.
Justin Bieber is set to perform at the close of the race, despite calls for a boycott, as MBS – as the Crown Prince is often known – pushes his social reforms into the limelight.
“Dialogue with Saudi Arabia is a necessity,” Mr Macron said when questioned over his decision to visit the crown prince, noting that a large part of the future of the Gulf will play out in Saudi Arabia.
The Élysée Palace later put out a statement saying that he was in no way trying to get the crown prince “back in the saddle”.
During the trip France also extended the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s license agreement – worth 165 million euros for France – allowing the Middle East outpost which first opened in 2017 to continue operating until at least 2047. In exchange, the Paris museum will lend four as-yet unidentified masterworks to the Abu Dhabi museum.
The post Macron accused of putting ‘deals’ before human rights with visit to Saudi Arabia appeared first on The Telegraph.