France’s increasingly close rapport with Saudi Arabia under President Francois Hollande has incensed some of his critics, who label him a hypocrite for touting a human rights agenda while maintaining cozy ties with the oil-rich Gulf nation notorious for public executions and beatings.
Just recently, Riyadh stoked international outrage over news that 20-year-old Ali al-Nimr, arrested four years ago during anti-government protests—along with hundreds of other, mostly Shiite protesters in the city of Qatif—would be sentenced to death. Although France has not been particularly outspoken on Saudi Arabia’s frequent executions—175 in 12 months, according to an Amnesty International report from August—al-Nimr’s case hit a nerve and prompted harsh condemnation from Paris.
But that indignation seemed to fade when French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that he and what Le Monde described as a “heavyweight delegation”—including Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian and a number of business executives—would be visiting Riyadh on Oct. 12. The hope, one French official told Le Monde, is for the visit to be “as successful” as Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman’s trip to Paris in June.