Saudi modernization drive in the limelight as crown prince visits France

Emmanuel Macron was the first foreign head of state to visit Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia — a favor now being returned with this visit to Paris. (AFP)
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Updated 29 July 2022

Saudi modernization drive in the limelight as crown prince visits France

  • As political, commercial and defense relations flourish, France is increasingly present in the Kingdom
  • Economic engagement likely to top agenda when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Macron meet

PARIS: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first visit to Paris in 2018 had exposure as an objective. At the time, he as well as Emmanuel Macron were making their first steps as young leaders.

Much has happened in four years, and the world, as we have known it, has changed. The first objective of the crown prince in Paris is to highlight the changes and other reforms undergone by the Kingdom. 

As pointed out by Cedomir Nestorovic, professor of geopolitics at ESSEC, the important thing to assess is whether “the massive reforms and the structural change of the Saudi society driven by the crown prince have been sufficiently noticed abroad.”

One of the key reforms introduced by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the emancipation of women, allowing them to drive. (AFP file)

The crown prince can boast today a real resume in terms of reforms.

He will be able to answer critics and face them with the positive dynamics to which Saudi Arabia has committed and underline the benefits of Arab modernity. When asked about the subject, several French legislators consider this visit to be strategically significant both for the crown prince and Macron.

Energy, according to Nestorovic, is of course the other focal point. During this period of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, gas and oil have become rare and expensive, and Europe apprehends the cold of winter.

Ties between Paris and Riyadh have strengthened in recent years, as Saudi Arabia’s social and economic reforms have begun to transform the Kingdom. (AFP)

By distancing itself from the conflict, Saudi Arabia managed, at first, to play the role of arbitrator, but the recent spectacular rapprochement between Vladimir Putin and his Turkish and Iranian counterparts reminded the Gulf monarchies that the Russian card could be a double-edged sword.

Also to be considered is the issue of Western leadership. By traveling to France, the crown prince seems to return the favor to Macron, who was the first Western head of state to visit him.

It also appears that relations have greatly improved and that France is increasingly present in Saudi Arabia.

If Macron understands the change of course initiated by the Kingdom for several years now, he will probably be in a better position than the US president to discuss energy issues.

The relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia does not have to pass solely through the US. (AFP photo)

Indeed, during the meeting with Joe Biden, Saudi Arabia pledged to support the West’s energy supply. But, for the time being, the real measures have not yet been taken. Similarly, the price of oil and gas has not really been addressed.

Macron and the crown prince have their own cards to play, by showing that the relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia no longer necessarily passes solely through the United States.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

This visit, therefore, has a strategic dimension since it deals with Europe’s energy security. But it also has, as is so often the case, a political dimension. Will the two young leaders be able to understand each other better?

Will we be able to say that the new French approach in Saudi Arabia is more realistic and keeps pace with the reforms and the transformation of the Kingdom?

Given the Saudi delegation accompanying the crown prince, it seems that the “economic development” aspect will be at the heart of the talks.

Should contacts between economic leaders be as flourishing as expected, this will play a strong role in helping Saudi Arabia gain stature among nations as a major player.

Modern France: A brief history

A general view of Paris. (Shutterstock)

The French Revolution of 1789 saw France transform from a monarchy to a republic, which came under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte 10 years later. After he became emperor of the First French Empire from 1804-1814, his armies conquered large swaths of continental Europe.

Another monarchy emerged from the wake of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, and Napoleon’s nephew created the Second Empire in 1852, becoming the last monarch to rule over France. He was ousted and the monarchy was replaced by the Third French Republic in 1870.

Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, France maintained a large colonial empire across West Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

France sided with the Allied Powers during the Second World War, 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 end of the war, but long wars in its colonies in Indochina (now Vietnam) and Algeria saw it ousted from these regions, and by the 1960s, most of France’s former colonies had achieved independence.

France has been a full member of the UN Security Council and NATO since the end of the Second World War, and played a vital role in the establishment of the EU.

France has a large Muslim and Arab population owing 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 site of unrest and protests against 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.


Druze: the great survivors
How the world's most secretive faithhas endured for a thousand years




US designates Pakistan militant group, Al-Qaeda branch ‘terrorist’ groups

Updated 25 min 29 sec ago

US designates Pakistan militant group, Al-Qaeda branch ‘terrorist’ groups

  • Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ended a monthslong cease-fire with Pakistan and resumed attacks
  • Pakistani Taliban were behind the 2014 attack on a Peshawar school that killed 147 people

ISLAMABAD: The United States has added the key Pakistani militant group and the Al-Qaeda branch to its list of “global terrorists,” triggering sanctions against the groups amid a resurgence of militant violence in this Islamic nation.
Thursday’s move by the State Department comes days after the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, known as TTP, ended a monthslong cease-fire with Pakistan and resumed attacks across the country.
The threat issued by the TTP forced Pakistani authorities to take additional measures, and security was tight on orders from the Interior Ministry outside worship and other public places Friday amid fears of more attacks. TTP has asked its fighters to target security forces across the country. Pakistani Taliban were behind the 2014 attack on a Peshawar school that killed 147 people, mostly schoolchildren.
The State Department said Thursday it has designated TTP and Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”
The agency’s statement said the US is “committed to using its full set of counterterrorism tools to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including Al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)” to keep militants from using Afghanistan as “a platform for international terrorism.”
“As a result of these actions,” the statement said, “all property and interests in property of those designated (Thursday) that are subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and all US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them.”
The United States also named four members of TTP and Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent Osama Mehmood, the head of the Al-Qaeda branch, Yahya Ghouri, the deputy chief of Al-Qaeda’s branch, and Muhammad Maruf, who is responsible for recruitment for the group.
It also designated TTP’s leader, Qari Amjad, who oversees militant attacks in northwest Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden was killed in a US Navy SEALs operation in May 2011 in his hiding place in the garrison city of Abbottabad, not far from the capital of Islamabad, and TTP emerged after Pakkistan became a key ally of the United States in its war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
There was no immediate comment from Pakistan, but the latest development comes after Islamabad asked the Taliban in Afghanistan to prevent TTP from using their soil for attacks inside the Islamic nation. The demand from Pakistan came after a suicide bomber dispatched by TTP blew himself up near a truck carrying police assigned to protect polio workers in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province.
TTP has claimed responsibility for the attack, which has drawn nationwide condemnation.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but allied with Afghanistan’s Taliban, who have ruled their country since the US and NATO troops withdrew last year. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan emboldened their Pakistani allies, whose top leaders and fighters are hiding in the next door country.

Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

Updated 02 December 2022

Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

  • They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate
  • Bodies are normally held at accredited funeral homes for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them

MANILA: The bodies of 70 inmates from the Philippines’ largest prison were laid to rest Friday in a mass burial, weeks after their decomposing remains were discovered in a Manila funeral home.
They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate, who was accused of being involved in the killing of a journalist in early October.
Most of the deaths were due to “natural causes,” said Cecilia Villanueva, the Bureau of Corrections’ acting director for health and welfare services.
Among them was a Japanese national.
Villanueva said 127 of the 140 bodies buried so far were badly decomposed and could not be autopsied again.
The bodies began piling up in the funeral home in December 2021 after their families — most of them poor — did not claim them.
Villanueva blamed “constraints” for the failure of corrections staff to ensure the inmates were given timely burials.
Bodies are normally held at the accredited funeral home for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them.
Friday’s mass burial was the biggest ever by the Bureau of Corrections, Villanueva told reporters.
Minimum security inmates carried the 70 plywood coffins to their final resting place — cheap concrete tombs in a cemetery inside the prison complex.
The gruesome discovery at the funeral home was only the latest scandal to rock the troubled Bureau of Corrections, which runs the country’s overcrowded prison system.
Its chief Gerald Bantag is accused of ordering the killing of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa, as well as Cristito Villamor Palana, an inmate who allegedly passed on the kill order to the gunman.
After Bantag was suspended from his job as director general, a huge pit was discovered next to his former official residence inside the prison complex.
Bantag claims it was for scuba diving, not an escape tunnel for inmates.
Among the remaining bodies still at the funeral home, eight would be re-examined by Raquel Fortun, one of the country’s two forensic pathologists.
Villanueva said an average of one to two prisoners died every day inside New Bilibid Prison, where about 29,000 inmates are held in a facility designed for 6,435.
There were only five doctors to treat the prisoners, but the Bureau of Corrections was trying to hire more.
“We are doing everything we can, we try to provide health care, just as health care is provided to the public, but there are so many constraints,” Villanueva said.

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

Updated 02 December 2022

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

  • First-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand
  • ’Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered’

CANBERRA: Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience Friday that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China.
Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. Australia’s pursuit of a free trade deal with the European Union was on the agenda.
She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia.
“Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered,” Marin told the Lowy Institute international policy think tank.
“Others will also be tempted by the same dark agenda,” she added.
A free trade agreement being finalized between the European Union, which includes Finland, and Australia was an opportunity to develop resilient supply chains, she said.
“We have become far too dependent on cooperation with regimes that do not share our common values,” Marin said, using Finland’s reliance on Russian energy as an example.
“Our dependencies are becoming our weaknesses faster and in more important areas of our societies than we would like to happen,” she added.
She described trade with China as a “reality.”
“We all have worries when it comes to China and we must make sure that we don’t have that kind of critical dependencies when it comes to China,” Marin said.
“We cannot be dependent, for example, on microchips or semiconductors or any kind of critical technologies when it comes to authoritarian countries. Because if those trading routes would be cut suddenly, then we would be in trouble,” she added.
Marin later met Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at his official Sydney residence. The pair released a joint statement saying their talks “underlined the need to work together in strengthening their resilience as open and democratic societies and in fostering sustainable development.”
They prime ministers “agreed that managing complex supply chains, energy sources and investing in trustworthy critical and emerging technologies was needed to promote economic, political, social and environmental stability as well as human rights,” the statement said.
Australia, which is the most generous donor to Ukraine’s war effort outside NATO, and Finland, a country that is soon to become a NATO member and shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, demanded in the statement Moscow immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

Updated 02 December 2022

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

  • 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting

KYIV: As many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia’s invasion in February, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.
“We have official estimates from the General Staff... And they range from 10,000 ... to 13,000 dead,” Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine’s Channel 24 on Thursday.
Zelensky would make the official data public “when the right moment comes,” he added.
In June, as Russian forces battled to take full control of the easternmost Lugansk region, Zelensky said Ukraine was losing “60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in September said 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
Both sides are suspected of minimizing their losses to avoid damaging the morale of their troops.
Top US general Mark Milley last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces likely suffering similar casualties.
Those figures — which could not be independently confirmed — are the most precise to date from the US government.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the worst fighting in Europe in decades.

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

Updated 02 December 2022

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

  • US Treasury Department threatened sanctions against anyone dealing with those directly involved in weapons development
  • Washington’s action blocks assets of three North Korean officials in the US

WASHINGTON: The United States, Japan and South Korea have imposed fresh sanctions on North Korean individuals and entities in response to Pyongyang’s recent slew of missile tests.
Washington’s action, announced Thursday, blocks any assets of three North Korean officials in the United States, a largely symbolic step against an isolated country that has defied international pressure over its weapons programs.
The US Treasury Department also threatened sanctions against anyone who conducts transactions with Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin and Kim Su Gil, who were identified as directly involved in weapons development.
The recent North Korean missile launches, including the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to hit the US mainland, “pose grave security risks to the region and entire world,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The sanctions “underscore our sustained resolve to promote accountability in response to Pyongyang’s pace, scale and scope of ballistic missile launches.”
Blinken added that the action was taken in coordination with US allies South Korea and Japan, and noted that the European Union issued similar designations of the three in April.
Tokyo and Seoul on Friday also announced new sanctions.
South Korea said it would target eight individuals, including a Taiwanese and a Singaporean national.
They have “contributed to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and evasion of (pre-existing) sanctions,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
All are already subject to US sanctions, the ministry added, and South Korea’s new restrictions are expected to “alert the domestic and international community of the risks of transactions with these entities.”
And Japan said that in response to Pyongyang’s “provocative acts,” it was freezing the assets of three North Korean groups — Korea Haegumgang Trading Corp, Korea Namgang Trading Corp. and Lazarus Group — and one person, Kim Su Il.
The United States has voiced frustration that China, North Korea’s closest ally, and Russia have blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to impose tougher sanctions.