By Bartholomew Madukwe with Agency Report
At least, 18 memorandums of understanding in energy, agriculture, tourism and culture are set to be signed at an official Saudi-France CEO Forum on Tuesday, following Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, visit to France.
The 32-year-old prince, who arrived France on Sunday, for the next leg of a global tour aimed at reshaping his kingdom’s austere image as he pursues his drive to reform the conservative petrostate, will hold meetings with French president, Emmanuel Macron, during his two-day official visit starting Monday — his first trip to France as the heir to the Saudi throne.
The Franco-Saudi cooperation deal is to develop Al Ula, a Saudi city richly endowed with archeological remnants, expected to be a central highlight of the visit, reports AFP.
Macron will walk a diplomatic tightrope with the young prince in talks set to focus on cultural ties and investments but also the war in Yemen, dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the kingdom’s arch-nemesis Iran.
Prince Mohammed, widely known as MBS, was received at the Bourget airport near Paris on Sunday morning by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, reports AFP.
The trip follows a coast-to-coast tour of the United States as well as visits to Britain and Egypt, where the prince courted a host of business tycoons and struck multimillion-dollar deals from defence to entertainment.
Aside from meetings with the French president, prime minister and trade officials, the prince is also considering a visit to the Paris-based tech start-up campus Station F, the Arab World Institute and a concert in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence, the source said.
Prince Mohammed’s tour is meant to project “Saudi Arabia is open for business,” Bernard Haykel, a professor at Princeton University said.
“He is marketing Saudi Arabia as a strategic and business partner to the West and a force of stability in the region, as compared to rival Iran which he presents as a destabilising force,” he added.
The tour comes after a tumultuous period at home that saw a major military shake-up and a royal purge as the prince consolidates power to a degree well beyond that wielded by previous rulers.
The prince has used his global tour to project his reforms — including the historic lifting of a ban on women driving, cinemas and mixed-gender concerts — as part of his pledge to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.
Backed by high-power lobbying and public relations firms, the prince is seeking to rebrand Saudi Arabia as a modernist oasis instead of an austere kingdom known for exporting jihadist ideology and subjugating women.
Saudi officials project strong relations between Prince Mohammed and Macron, both young leaders undertaking challenging reforms to transform their countries.
According to the Saudi government, Saudi Arabia is not resetting diplomatic ties with France, the leadership of both countries share much in common. They are both young, visionary and ambitious.
But the trip follows a period of underlying tensions, with Macron seeking to bolster ties with the Arab world’s biggest economy while also managing other relationships with Middle Eastern nations.