Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Paris on September 15 for talks with the French President Emmanuel Macron. The visit came as on August 23 the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian along with Defense Minister Florence Parly traveled to the UAE to discuss Afghanistan situation...
AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Paris on September 15 for talks with the French President Emmanuel Macron. The visit came as on August 23 the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian along with Defense Minister Florence Parly traveled to the UAE to discuss Afghanistan situation and evacuation of foreign citizens and diplomats from the Central Asian country. The UAE and France have been two major players in various cases in Africa in recent years, and the turning point in this cooperation has been the Libyan crisis, mainly in the confrontation with the Turkish policies in that region. Now, what goals does bin Zayed have behind Paris trip? What are goals of the French side?
Bilateral relations boost
The first and most accessible goal in connection with bin Zayed's visit to France is to establish bilateral cooperation and strengthen relations between the two countries. Abu Dhabi is hosting a permanent French military base called Al Dhafra Air Base. The UAE is also the world's third largest buyer of French arms, and Emirates foreign policy czar now appears to be seeking an increase in military purchases from Paris.
Of course, the relations between France and the UAE are not limited to military and strategic relations, and they have cultural and scientific cooperation and this even expanded unprecedentedly with the establishment of the Louvre Museum and Sorbonne University branches in the Arab country. Actually, Paris and Abu Dhabi were engaged in cultural dialogue that began in early 2018 and lasted until June 2019. During this period, the two exchanged cultural weeks. Most important of them was the Emirates cultural week in Paris held in October 2018 with the participation of artists from both countries.
Overall, it seems that during bin Zayed's visit, the two countries discuss cooperation boost in the fields of education, French language expansion in the Arab world, culture, economics and investment, energy, the environment, Health, space, security and military, and fight against common competitors.
Regional policy convergence with focus on anti-Muslim Brotherhood policies
Bin Zayed, on the one hand, and Macron, on the other, tend to converge and cooperate in foreign policy around a common enemy and rival, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) axis, led by Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Over the past two years, France and Turkey as members of NATO have been colliding on a wide range of issues, including Turkey's oil and gas exploration activities in the Mediterranean, Ankara's presence in Libya, the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis, Turkey's disputes with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, as well as the controversy over Macron's anti-Islamism and the murder of a history teacher on the outskirts of Paris following his anti-Islamic class material. At one point, tensions between the two countries escalated to the point where rumors surfaced about the deployment of a French anti-aircraft system in areas under control of Khalifa Haftar, a warlord sponsored by the UAE against Ankara-backed Tripoli Government of National Accord (GNA), in Libya.
In the current conditions, Turkey has become a headache for France, and Paris neither wants close and intensive relations with this country in NATO and its accession as a member of the European Union, nor has the ability to ignore this country. This has led Paris to cooperate with like-minded countries in confronting Ankara and Erdogan's pro-MB policies. Meanwhile, one of the sworn enemies of the MB in West Asia is bin Zayed and the UAE.
After 2011, it seemed that Turkey and the Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, could have areas of cooperation and coordination with each other. But contrary to initial assumptions, the MB's rise to power in Egypt under President Mohamed Morsi sounded the first alarms for the Arab countries. After the 2013 coup in Egypt led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who removed Morsi, there was a major regional confrontation between the Arabs and Turkey.
This polarization not only has not diminished in recent years, but has also taken on more specific and complex dimensions in various areas, such as the Libyan crisis. On the one hand, the conservative Arab countries, under the influence of the thoughts and policies of the bin Zayed, have been deeply concerned about the rise of the MB in the region, and on the other hand, Ankara supported the MB in political and even military fields. In general, it can be said that in recent years, the Turkish-Arab rivalry has been a pro and anti-MB scene unfolding actively in the region, with its main areas of play being Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria.
It seems that Macron and bin Zayed will pursue a strategy of cooperation in the field of regional politics, considering the common thoughts and policies in opposition to the MB axis in the region. Increased cooperation between the two countries in crisis spots like Libya, Syria and even the Eastern Mediterranean is very likely in the new situation. The financial strength of the UAE and the diplomatic and military power of France can merge to empower this cooperation focusing on antipathy to the Turkish policies.
Macron seeking to restore traditional French position in West Asia
Also it should be taken into account that behind advancing the ties with the Persian Gulf Arab states France eyes restoring its past place in the region. Paris has recently been longing to revive the French influential role and position of the colonial era in West Asia and North Africa. The European power in recent years rapidly involved in military conflicts in Africa, in countries like Libya Mali, and Central African Republic, but recently changed role to become a diplomatic force in West Asia. Although successful in securing its economic interests in West Asia, France has not been able to fully achieve its political goals because of some of its hasty policies, especially against Syria and Iran. Since Presidency of François Hollande, Paris embarked on new policies. The top goal of these policies, accelerated under Macron, is revival of the past glory of France, once President Charles de Gaulle dreamed of— though there are differences in today's tactics towards this end.
Reviewing some failed policies of France in past decade, Macron tries to adopt multilateralism as a successful policy in the form of alliance with the US and the EU across the world, and particularly in West Asia to reverse the past mistakes and setbacks. Meanwhile, the American gradual withdrawal from West Asia and Europe and the indifference of the European bloc is causing a strategic vacuum. Understanding this vacuum, Paris is carving out an independent defense policy to fill the strategic gap. Macron once said the regional powers know how to fill the vacuum in their favor. Growing assertive about its new approach, France since summer 2020 has mobilized its power to push back against Turkish and Iranian influence consecutively in Libya and Lebanon. Working with the new generation of Arab rulers, on top of them bin Zayed, is also on Macron's agenda in the new era towards this end.