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RIYADH: The arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in France for a state visit continues a tradition of frequent high-level exchanges between the two friendly countries.

The strength of the political ties and strategic partnership between France and Saudi Arabia is evident in the large number of visits made by their leaders and officials in recent years.

Since 2017, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has visited France once. During the same period, the French Foreign Minister visited Saudi Arabia three times, while French President Emmanuel Macron visited the Kingdom once.

The last official diplomatic visit took place in December 2021, when President Macron met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah as part of a tour of the Gulf countries.

Formal relations between France and the Arabian Peninsula date back to 1839, when the former opened a consulate in Jeddah, its first diplomatic post in the region.

Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz, the future King of Saudi Arabia, was the first member of the royal family to pay an official visit to France in 1919. Full diplomatic relations began when France recognized the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd, the precursor of the united kingdom. of Saudi Arabia, established in 1932.

In his role as foreign minister, Prince Faisal visited Paris again after France became one of the first countries to recognize the kingdom.

In 1967, King Faisal visited French President Charles de Gaulle in Paris – his first state visit as ruler of the Kingdom. Since then, relations between the two countries have blossomed and become closer than ever.

Many agreements have been signed between them, ranging from military assistance and advanced technology to economic and cultural cooperation.

The Kingdom’s relations with France are built on the common interests of “preserving security in a troubled region, a common commitment to the fight against terrorism and a convergence of views on regional crises”, according to the French ministry’s website. of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

Saudi Arabia and France enjoy strong trade relations, as shown by both the economic history and the total volume of trade between the two. In 2021, France imported $3.8 billion worth of Saudi goods, while it exported $3.23 billion to the Kingdom, according to the UN Comtrade international trade database.

Banque Saudi Fransi is a Saudi joint-stock company established by a Saudi royal decree in 1977, and is associated with the French Crédit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank. The bank now has over 100 branches across the Kingdom and more internationally.

The Franco-Saudi Business Council, established in 2003, has held dozens of sessions to discuss bilateral trade and investment.

The two countries have not only established economic relations with each other, but have joined together to help other nations by providing joint economic aid.

In April this year, Saudi Arabia and France announced a joint development fund to provide $76 million for force development in food security, health, education, energy, water and internal security in Lebanon in crisis.

Perhaps no sector of Franco-Saudi relations is stronger or more easily observed than that of joint cultural and artistic enterprises. In 2018, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, Saudi Minister of Culture, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, signed an intergovernmental agreement to collaborate in the development of the cultural and tourist destination AlUla.

Since this agreement, France and Saudi Arabia have worked closely and intensely on the development of AlUla. Also in 2018, the Royal Commission for AlUla signed an agreement with Campus France to train 68 Saudi hospitality workers to work at AlUla, and the following year it was announced that the site would house a luxury resort designed by award-winning Frenchmen. the architect Jean Nouvel.

Ludovic Pouille, the current French ambassador to the Kingdom, spoke to Arab News earlier this month about continuing cultural cooperation.

“In 2002, the very first Franco-Saudi archaeological dig, led by French archaeologist Laila Nehme, was launched in Mada’in Saleh,” he told Arab News.

“This year, we are celebrating 20 years of this cooperation, which has expanded with no less than 16 Franco-Saudi archaeological missions in the Kingdom.

He noted that several agreements had been signed in recent years to open training centers for Saudi youth in collaboration with the French Football Federation.

This year in May, the Franco-Saudi Business Council hosted a high-level French delegation representing the entertainment sector to discuss potential French investment in the Kingdom’s thriving entertainment industry.

The Campus France initiative is far from being the only educational joint venture between France and the Kingdom. In 2021, during a dinner in Riyadh, Bertrand Besancenot, then French ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said that 1,500 Saudi students were studying in French universities, and that many of these universities had signed agreements aimed at increasing the number. of Saudi students in the country.

The two states, both members of the G20, also have clear visions for progress and modernization. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Saudi Vision 2030 in 2016, while France launched its own French Vision 2030 a few months ago. The goals of both plans include energy transition to renewables, digital transitions and sustained economic growth.

France has long stood in solidarity with the Kingdom in the face of military and militant attacks against Saudi Arabia. In December 1979, France sent advisers from its elite GIGN special police and trained members of the Saudi General Directorate of Intelligence who ended the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by armed fanatics.

In March this year, France condemned the attacks carried out on Saudi territory by the Yemeni Houthi militia supported by Iran.

France is also a major supplier of defense equipment and technology to Saudi Arabia, a relationship underscored by the $12 billion in agreements signed between the two countries in 2015.

In 2019, Saudi Arabian Military Industries announced at a military exhibition in Abu Dhabi that the Kingdom had signed an agreement with the French naval group to build warships in Saudi Arabia. Two years later, SAMI announced co-investments with the French companies Airbus and Figeac Aero.

In this context, the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to France should cement ties in all areas of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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History of modern France

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The French Revolution of 1789 saw France change from a monarchy to a republic, which came under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte 10 years later.

After becoming Emperor of the First French Empire from 1804 to 1814, his armies conquered large swaths of continental Europe. Another monarchy emerged following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, and Napoleon’s nephew created the Second Empire in 1852, becoming the last monarch to rule France.

He was ousted and the monarchy was replaced by the French Third Republic in 1870. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, France maintained a vast colonial empire across West Africa, l Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

France sided with the Allied powers in World War II, but was split in two during the conflict, with most of the country controlled by a collaborationist, pro-German government.

The country slowly recovered after the war ended, but long wars in its colonies of Indochina (now Vietnam) and Algeria drove it out of those areas, and in the 1960s the most of the former French colonies had achieved independence.

France has been a full member of the UN Security Council and NATO since the end of World War II and played a key role in the creation of the EU. France has a large Muslim and Arab population due to its former colonies in North Africa, and many of these populations suffer from social alienation and high unemployment rates.

The country has been the scene of unrest and protests over the enforcement of strict secular policies and controversial bills, some of which have attempted to ban the wearing of headscarves or traditional Muslim face coverings in public.

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