Jean-Yves Le Drian, a heavyweight for cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Once expected to take over the presidency of the Arab World Institute in Paris, Jean-Yves Le Drian (born in 1947) was finally appointed head of the French Agency responsible for the development of the Al-Arab region. Ula (Afalula) in northwestern Saudi Arabia. He takes over from Gérard Mestrallet in position since 2018, the date of the creation of Afalula. A big boss (Mestrallet headed GDF-Suez, then Engie) is succeeded by an experienced politician who knows the Persian Gulf countries well: this appointment confirms the desire to strengthen French influence in the region.

If Le Drian is a local elected official (mayor of Lorient, president of the Regional Council of Brittany and deputy), he was interested very early in geopolitical issues and defense questions. In 1978, he joined the Commission for National Defense and Armed Forces, where he wrote several reports on the presence of French troops in Lebanon or Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s. But it is his knowledge of the countries of the Middle East and the Gulf which explains his recent appointment with, in the background, the rapprochement between France and Saudi Arabia. When he was Minister of Defense under François Hollande (2012-2017), Le Drian placed France sustainably in the regional diplomatic game, thanks to arms sales. Between the Rafales sold to Egypt and the weapons sold to Qatar or Saudi Arabia, Le Drian has often been described as “the sales representative of the arms industry”.

Following his appointment to the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs in 2017, his multiple trips to the Gulf strengthened his relations with local leaders. He therefore met regularly with the Saudi crown prince, as well as his ministers of Defense and Economy. A real asset today since Afalula is an agency co-built with the Saudis. Le Drian has also faced criticism over its proximity to the kingdom, first due to deliveries of French weapons used in the war in Yemen, then in 2018 and 2019 after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. by Mohammed Ben Salman.

How can Jean-Yves Le Drian combine his new functions with those of personal envoy of the president for Lebanon, which he has held since June 2023? For the moment, he combines both, even if his trip to Lebanon in September seems compromised according to the Lebanese media which mention the opposition of certain politicians to the French initiative. To the extent that Saudi Arabia is also very active in the Lebanese crisis, Le Drian’s appointment to Afalula is akin to a rise in influence diplomacy in the region.

Monuments excavated from the Al-Hijr site in the Al-Ula region


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