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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and France share an old diplomatic relationship dating back to 1839, with the opening of the first French diplomatic post in the Arabian Peninsula.

The ties flourished over time, eventually encompassing all aspects of bilateral cooperation on trade, cultural, educational and political agreements.

Celebrating July 14, Arab News en Francais met with French Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ludovic Pouille to discuss the global strategic partnership between the Kingdom and France as well as the Ambassador’s aspirations in the country.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives French President Emmanuel Macron in Jeddah on December 4, 2021. Saudi Arabia and France share a historic relationship that dates back to 1839. (AFP)

Regarding cultural cooperation between the two states, the ambassador told Arab News: “Since the intergovernmental agreement signed during the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Paris in 2018, the AlUla project has been a remarkable vector cooperation between the two countries in all areas, including tourism, culture and heritage.

The aforementioned visit took Franco-Saudi relations to another level, during which an emblematic bilateral agreement for the development of interconnected urban centers and cultural and tourist institutions in the AlUla region and around the Nabataean archaeological site of Mada ‘in Saleh was born.

We wish to promote the excellence and know-how of our institutions to Saudis, particularly with regard to the production of events, the presentation of artists and their works, the training and opening of schools of art.

Ludovic PouilleFrench Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

“Archeology is a historical key player in this cooperation. In 2002, the very first Franco-Saudi archaeological dig, led by French archaeologist Laila Nehme, was launched in Mada’in Saleh. We are celebrating 20 years of this cooperation this year, which has expanded with no less than 16 Franco-Saudi archaeological missions in the Kingdom,” said Pouille, adding that this partnership will continue to progress with the upcoming construction of Villa Hegra, a cultural center. complex dedicated to contemporary art in AlUla.

The Ambassador said he was proud to have participated in the opening of a branch of the Alliance Française in AlUla in November 2021, and believes that it will bring together the Saudi and French-speaking communities.

Cultural and artistic cooperation, already deeply rooted, continues to develop and flourish. June 2022 saw the first edition of the music festival in Diriyah, organized by the French Embassy in Saudi Arabia.

“Similarly, Mohammed Abdo’s concert in Paris on July 22 will be an opportunity to introduce traditional Saudi songs to the French public,” he said, adding that these events promote rapprochement between peoples and intercultural dialogue. because they create bridges between cultures.

“France is a forerunner in several sectors, such as cinema, music, culinary arts, video games and the performing arts,” said Pouille. “We want to promote the excellence and know-how of our institutions to Saudis, particularly with regard to the production of events, the presentation of artists and their works, the training and opening of schools of ‘art. We have a lot to do together.

Despite the lion’s share of cultural programs, the rise of Franco-Saudi relations is not limited to this. Sports cooperation between France and Saudi Arabia is developing rapidly.

The French ambassador does not hide his passionate support for Al-Hilal Saudi Football Club. He told Arab News that several agreements have been signed in recent years by the Saudi Ministry of Sports and various French entities, including with the French Football Federation, the National Institute of Sport and Performance and the French Handball Federation. .

Several Saudi youth football training centers are being developed in the Kingdom, in collaboration with the FFF, but that’s not all. “French players specializing in the organization of sports competitions have excelled in recent years on the Saudi scene,” said Pouille.

“The first thing that comes to mind is the Dakar Rally, organized since 2020 in Saudi Arabia by Amaury Sports Organization, which is a flagship event of our sports cooperation. ASO has also launched other major events with the Saudi authorities, such as the first round of Arabia in cycling in 2020, the Baja rally in the eastern province, the AlUla eco-trail and the Riyadh marathon. As a sporting nation and organizer of international events like the Paris Olympics in 2024, France has a lot of experience to pass on.

Economically, Saudi Arabia and France have always had a special relationship, but this was strengthened after President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the Kingdom in 2017.

“French investments in Saudi Arabia reached around $3 billion in 2020, mainly in the energy sector, while the Saudis invested around $600 million in France, mainly in hotels and real estate,” Pouille said.

The French ambassador noted that, in trade terms, trade in goods between France and Saudi Arabia amounted to $6 billion in 2021, up 25% year-on-year. , reflecting the strength of bilateral trade relations. In the ranking of Saudi Arabia’s supplier countries, France ranks eighth and retains a market share of approximately 3.4% of total Saudi imports.

When asked where he sees this cooperation in five years, Pouille said he was very optimistic.

“Saudi Arabia has launched a series of giga-projects: NEOM, AlUla, Red Sea Project, Qiddiya, AMALA, Diriyah, and many development projects in the capital and the rest of the country in areas covering tourism and entertainment, arts and culture, renewable energy, new technologies and innovation,” he said.

“Thanks to partnerships with Saudi companies, in particular those concluded during the business forum on the sidelines of President Emmanuel Macron’s visit, French companies are already present in these sectors, which will certainly be very promising in the years to come. The sky will be our limit.

There is an active and dynamic French community living in Saudi Arabia, many of whom are executives working in large French or foreign groups in the energy, defence, transport and tourism sectors. According to the ambassador, in July 2022 there were 5,600 registered French people living in the Kingdom – 2,500 in Riyadh and 600 in the Eastern Province (Dammam, Alkhobar and Jubail), as well as 2,500 in Jeddah, Medina and Mecca.

“I am indeed delighted to see more and more compatriots choosing to come to Saudi Arabia thanks to the many economic and cultural projects being developed under Vision 2030,” Pouille said.

He added that the French community in Saudi Arabia enjoys an excellent quality of life, with access to good services, including digital ones, as well as an increasingly varied leisure offer in a secure environment.

For Pouille, the presence of three leading French international schools in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar, alongside a network of five Alliances Françaises in the country, reinforces the attractiveness of the Kingdom for French and French-speaking families.

“Access to high-level medical infrastructure is a plus and the French community particularly appreciated the rigorous management of the pandemic by the Saudi authorities,” he said.

At the end of the interview, the Ambassador took the opportunity to wish readers a Happy National Day saying: “On this July 14, our National Day, I hope that in the years to come, the French will visit Arabia in greater numbers and that more and more Saudi tourists and investors will visit France.