France is one of the UAE's most important friends

A year on from becoming ambassador to France, I could not be prouder of where our bilateral relationship stands

President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed at a dinner reception hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron. Presidential Court
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I have been the UAE’s ambassador to France for nearly a year now, and it is fair to say that President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed’s recent visit was the proudest moment of my tenure so far. To see our President welcomed to Paris for his first state visit, and received with the highest honours by President Emmanuel Macron and numerous French officials, was the privilege of a lifetime.

For his first state visit as President, Sheikh Mohamed chose Paris. The event marked a significant moment in time for the historical partnership that binds the UAE with France.

Indeed, this choice is no coincidence: it is not only indicative of our great friendship, but also reflects the potential our president sees in the future of this bilateral collaboration. And based on what I have learned from my time in France so far, he is absolutely right. We have maintained excellent relations ever since the foundation of the UAE, with France among the very first countries to open an embassy in Abu Dhabi, in 1972. Today, our ties run deep, and there is tremendous appetite on both sides for them to extend wider.

The visit saw as many as 12 strategic agreements signed, aiming to give us the tools to address the greatest challenges facing our world. Reflecting the global agenda, these deals demonstrate the UAE’s commitment to global energy security, health and climate change, as well as the specific areas of strategic interest which bind our two nations spanning from education and culture to space exploration.

With each of last week’s engagements, a message was made clear: in today’s global context, it is only through co-operation and exchange that nations can prosper. This is a message that the UAE delegation repeated to their French interlocutors, and a message that I am proud to stand for.

In my role in France, I am constantly reminded of the importance of dialogue to build bridges, beyond the links that exist at an official and political level. The UAE is characterised by openness, tolerance and the understanding of one’s culture, and these values are at the heart of my mission as ambassador to France. I consider it paramount to meet, discuss and exchange views on important topics such as culture, religion, education and science.

Ambassador Hend Al Otaiba welcoming President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed in France. UAE Embassy Paris

So, for me, the success of this visit lay in all the new bridges built between the UAE and France, not just in terms of the bond that unites our respective presidents, but at a variety of levels, going way beyond traditional diplomatic and political circles. To state a few examples: Minister Noura Al Kaabi visited a collaborative cultural centre in the Paris suburbs that connects artists with the local community so both sides learn from each other; our healthcare specialists visited France’s leading medical research organisation, the Institut Pasteur, to advance medical co-operation. And President Sheikh Mohamed himself spent time listening to the stories of young Emirati students in Paris, asking about their perspectives on the excellent French higher education system, inquiring about any support they may require while abroad, and stressing the importance of the role they will play back home with their newly gained experience.

The Embassy in Paris works tirelessly to ensure that channels of communication are opened and sustained with important partners across every field. Therefore, I was pleased to see senior UAE leaders so receptive to the French stakeholders we introduced them to. And this goes both ways: the feedback from our French friends has also been very positive, telling me how surprised they are to see ministers so engaged and eager to learn about their activities. It encourages me to continue diversifying our networks, as there is much we can learn from each other.

Ambassador Hend Al Otaiba with French President Emmanuel Macron. UAE Embassy Paris

I was particularly thrilled to see investments made in culture. Something that our people share with the people of France is a love of arts and, illustrating this, our partnership with Louvre Abu Dhabi was recently extended until 2047. I intend to continue expanding these partnerships, which is why I spend time speaking with, and learning from, many cultural players in Paris and across France.

We have much to build yet. This historic visit was a timely reminder of how much we can achieve through friendship and mutual understanding. I am thankful to our host: it was a delight to witness French hospitality at its best, when in the grand setting of Versailles’ Trianon, dozens of high-level guests, all leaders in their fields, paused to listen to the orchestra play a couple of tunes dedicated to the memory of the UAE’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed. This touching gesture was much appreciated by us all, and is a testament to the level of mutual understanding we have reached. It fills me with optimism for the future of our relations and the years to come.

Published: August 01, 2022, 7:00 AM