Shadows and highlights of a key partnership

The Franco-Emirati collaboration has its monument in Fontainebleau: the Imperial Theater built by Napoleon III. was arranged. Abu Dhabi funded its restoration, it is now also called “Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre”, named after the President of the Emirates.

In the United Arab Emirates, it is a military base that embodies French influence: Al-Dhafra Air Force Base, 30 kilometers from Abu Dhabi. The 2,800 French and above all Afghans who had been evacuated from Kabul came here in the past few weeks. Inaugurated with great fanfare by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2009, this first French military base in the region is a strategic site. It provides projection capacity in the Middle East and secures access to hydrocarbons from the Gulf.

The UAE is one of the big customers of the French defense industry, from Leclerc and Mirage tanks in the 90s to observation satellites and anti-aircraft radars sold since 2010. And the best VRP in the material is called Jean-Yves le Drian. The former mayor of Lorient, foreign minister and former defense minister knows the importance of orders in shipyards. Arms sales represent 13% of industrial employment in France, or 200,000 direct and indirect jobs. Since 2012, Jean-Yves Le Drian has visited the capital of the Emirates more than 20 times.

But France in the Emirates is also a museum: the Louvre Abu Dhabi, an architectural jewel by Jean Nouvel that opened at the end of 2017, is a representative shop window. A billion euros has been invested, millions of visitors are at stake. The University of Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi has seen nearly 2,000 students pass under its dome since its inception in 2006.

These sites are emblematic of French influence in a petromonarchy that, in the 1990s after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, realized it could not count on Saudi Arabia alone to ensure its security. The Emirates have therefore diversified their partnerships, particularly with France.

The two states share a common goal of maintaining freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf in the face of the Iranian threat in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic location for oil transportation. They also agree to limit Turkish influence in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly in the Libyan theater.

The Emirates work together with the French services, especially in the fight against terrorism. They combat Muslim Brotherhood-backed political Islam, which they see as a threat to their stability, and have been able to curry favor with the West with the image of a bulwark against terrorism by advocating an Islam compatible with modern consumerism.

The incarnation of that is Dubai, a party hotspot, a tourist haven… but also a tax haven. Two money laundering convictions have just been handed down in Paris, the first in France in connection with the “Dubai Papers”, revelations about a huge offshore money laundering scheme in the Emirates.

The regime is also held in place with an iron fist: Abu Dhabi is an absolutist petro-monarchy in which there are no civil liberties. She is involved in the war in Yemen against pro-Iranian Hutist rebels: Six years of fighting against pro-Iranian Hutist rebels, more than 233,000 dead. That “worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world” according to the UN. The Emirates even maintain a long-secret prison there, in which acts of torture are denounced. This prison is located in a gas export factory in which Total is the main shareholder. This is the dark side that accompanies the Franco-Emirati partnership celebrated at the Château de Fontainebleau.

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