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France and Qatar: the history of a long and uneasy friendship

A few weeks before the World Cup, the idea of ​​a boycott appeared frequently in the French media. After Eric Cantona A Virgin Despentes, various public figures criticized the “ecological malfunction” and “thousands of deaths” resulting from the sporting event. Several cities, including Paris, have announced that they will not install screens to project the Games this year. However, as soon as the ball rolled, any shadow of a boycott was dispelled, and the number of spectators watching France reach the final surpassed 2018.

“It is true that there were negative elements for the image of Qatar, at the World Cup we saw the stigmatization of the human rights situation, the claims of non-governmental organizations about workers who died on the job or the banning of the flag. Rainbow,” analyzes David Rigole-Rose, a research associate at the Institute for International Affairs and Strategy who specializes in the Middle East. “But as the organizer of the World Cup, in terms of balance soft power For them, it will be globally positive, since the event passed without serious incidents and because the image of pan-Arab solidarity is also being built due to the support of Emir Tamir of Morocco and the tolerant presence of Palestinian flags. Qatar has long funded Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The World Cup also served to return the emirate’s image to the center of debate in French public opinion, with new revelations, old controversies and criticism of Emmanuel Macron for going to Doha. In fact, the Franco-Qatari friendship spans more than half a century. In December 1971, with the end of the British protectorate, Abu Dhabi and six other smaller monarchies formed the federation of the United Arab Emirates, which Qatar did not want to join.

Since then, the small state has never stopped looking for allies to escape the constraints imposed by geography and the influence of its neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iran. It also tried to avoid dependence on London (traditionally close to its rival, Bahrain) or Washington (close to Saudi Arabia). For an emirate barely bigger than Corsica and full of energy resources, France appeared from the beginning as an ideal candidate to expand its circle of allies.

The cornerstone of Paris-Doha relations was signed three years after independence, in 1974, with the first economic cooperation agreement, which allowed the French company Total to strengthen its position in the region and Qatar to associate Western power with its projects. development. Three years earlier, exploration had discovered a huge underwater natural gas field North Valleyin the waters of the Persian Gulf shared by Iran and Qatar.

energy and defense

In the 1980s and 1990s, ties continued in the hydrocarbons, aviation (Airbus will be Qatar Airways’ preferred supplier) and defense sectors. It is estimated that in 1985 the Qatari armed forces were 80% equipped with French material. Emir Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani spent more and more time in apartments in Switzerland or Paris at the Hotel Crillon under the patronage of Frenchman Paul Baril, a former member of the Elysée anti-terrorist unit turned private security.

In June 1995, Crown Prince Hamad took advantage of his father’s stay in Geneva. depose him and declare himself amir in his stead. The coup will cause some turbulence in the relations between the two countries. The new emir has confirmed his intention to turn Qatar into a gas powerhouse, exploit the northern valley with Iran, undermine Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

the presence of a barrel, Expert in covert operationsIn Abu Dhabi, the situation was further complicated: the new power feared the return of the old emir through a coup, supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In 2018, A The interview was given to Al-JazeeraBarrill said he received a phone call from Jacques Chirac, then president of the Republic, asking him to “stop the nonsense” that “could embarrass France”.

This episode will spoil the relations between the two countries for several years. Chirac and his foreign minister, Hubert Vedrin, tried to win back Emir Hamad’s confidence. This work kept the total in the mining operations in the Northfield. In 2003, Paris’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq succeeded in bringing Paris and Doha closer together. Dominique de Villepin’s speech to the UN Security Council It was endorsed and widely distributed by Al Jazeera.

The era of Sarkozy

France is once again forging personal ties with the royal family, setting the stage for relations to reach a new dimension throughout Nicolas Sarkozy’s tenure. One of Hammad’s sons, Joan, is sent to study at the Saint-Cyr Academy instead of Sandhurst, the traditional destination of the Gulf elite.

In May 2007, the Emir was the first foreign head of state to be received by the new French president. On this trip, Elisema confirmed the sale of eighty A350 aircraft worth $16,000 million. A few weeks later, Qatar cooperated through the mediation of the French president Liberation of Bulgarian nurses He was arrested by the Gaddafi regime.

In January 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy made his first visit to Doha and announced A Amendment of Article 17 of the tax treaty between the two countries. These new provisions exempt Qataris from tax on dividends and real estate capital gains received in France. The deal went relatively unnoticed, but it was Qatar’s entry into the heart of French capitalism.

Under Sarkozy’s mandate, the Gulf ally’s presence in French society has multiplied, with the purchase of PSG, the prize-winning horses, the purchase of luxury hotels (such as the Royal Monceau or the Carlton de Cannes). Entering the audiovisual sector with the launch of the Al Jazeera Sport channel, renamed BeIN Sports. In addition, through investment groups, Qatar became a shareholder of the Lagardère and Accor groups, as well as LVMH, Total Veolia or Printemps galleries, among others.

“In the midst of the financial crisis of 2007-2008, Qatar, with its billions, became an interesting player,” explained Christian Chesnott, author of several studies on Qatar. RFI station microphones. “The Qataris invested 25,000 million euros in the territory of France. In fact, it is less than in the United Kingdom (45,000 million), although they do not have as close a relationship with London as they do with Paris.

During the Sarkozy years, the receptions of the Qatari ambassador to France, Mohamed Jaham al-Kuwar, brought together the cream of the two main parties of the time, the Socialists and the Gaullist right. A relationship that finds many responses today, the so-called In the 2016 book Our three emirsChesnot and Georges Malbruno echo al-Kuwar’s anger at the greed of his guests. “But these French politicians, do they think my office is a €500 ticket machine or what?”

Hollande and Macron

“In fact, this is an issue that goes beyond Qatar, there are many petro-monarchies that operate like this,” Rigulet-Rose explains. “When there are strong interests and a lot of money at the same time, it leads to situations like what happened in the European Parliament. Because these countries are convinced that everything has a price, in fact, they don’t understand when people refuse a generous financial offer, they just think that maybe they didn’t offer enough.”

In 2012, François Hollande, elected by anti-economic elites, tried to distance himself from the excesses of the Sarkozy era without renouncing Qatar’s friendship. The new president will not touch the famous Article 17 of the fiscal agreement (and neither will Emmanuel Macron). And Tamir’s ascension to Qatar’s head of state in 2013 won’t change the dynamic much. However, Macron and Hollande have somewhat distanced themselves from Doha and are looking for new support in the region.

“Under Francois Hollande there was a greater orientation towards Saudi Arabia, which was ultimately less fruitful in terms of large contracts such as the Riyadh metro, which was ultimately awarded to a Spanish consortium. [FCC]”- says Rigule-Rosi. “As for Macron, there is a stronger orientation towards the United Arab Emirates; In general, it can be said that Macron is closer to MBZ [Mohammed ben Zayed] than Qatar or Saudi Arabia, although there are also strategic agreements with these two petro-monarchies.”

Some of Qatar’s allies are also straining relations with Paris – and Washington – over its support for groups such as Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. So much so that in an interview with the magazine, Macron referred to both Qatar and Saudi Arabia as “states that indirectly financed terrorism”. Le Point.

Source: El Diario





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