Macron under fire for ‘working lunch’ with Saudi Arabia’s Bin Salman

  • Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday for a working lunch, while NGOs accuse Macron of being the main architect of bin Salman’s rehabilitation on the international scene.

The two men are expected to discuss “regional stability issues”, and “major international issues” and prepare “the Summit for a new global financial pact” on Friday, according to l’Elysée.

Bin Salman is expected to play a critical role in the oncoming Summit for a New Global Financial Pact on 22-23 June in Paris, the main objective of which is to ensure public and private actors work hand-in-hand to finance “global south” countries’ green and economic transitions.

Macron eyes Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, one of the largest in the world, managing over $630 billion (€577 billion) in assets in 2023.

“Sovereign wealth funds from the Gulf have made their mark on global finance. They represent a new class of respected investors,” especially as the financing of the green transition becomes states’ urgent priority, François-Aïssa Touazi, Senior Managing Director of Ardian, a private equity firm, told French daily L’Opinion in March.

NGOs accused Macron of being “the main architect of bin Salman’s rehabilitation” on the international scene, according to Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard.

This comes at the worst possible time, as “Saudi Arabia is about to execute seven young men who were children at the time of their alleged crime, one of whom was only 12 years old”, she told French broadcaster France Inter on Thursday.

Bin Salman was effectively internationally side-lined in 2018 following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fervent critique of the regime. He was found dead and dismembered in Turkey’s Saudi consulate.

A US intelligence report published in 2021 confirmed that the attack had been perpetuated by a Saudi commando and approved by bin Salman himself.

But with the war in Ukraine and energy price hikes, Saudi Arabia, the world’s third-largest oil exporter, has re-emerged as a key geopolitical player.

In its annual report on human rights, Amnesty denounced Saudi Arabia’s “unfair trials” and heavy prison sentences handed down to “people who had merely expressed their views peacefully”.

Death sentences have also been handed down “following grossly unfair trials”.

Finally, the Kingdom remains France’s leading arms buyer, according to a 2022 count by media outlet The Conversation.

Macron was the first Western leader to agree to meet bin Salman in December 2021. In July 2022, a ‘working dinner’ between the two men had already raised NGOs’ alarm bells.