On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Mohammed Bin Zayed, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi, one of Paris’ closest Middle East friends.
According to AFP journalists, the two met for a working lunch at the ancient Fontainebleau Chateau outside of Paris, where the United Arab Emirates has played a significant role in restoration efforts.
The UAE and France have strong military, political, and cultural relations. In the previous month, Abu Dhabi has functioned as a gateway for the evacuation of French and Afghan nationals from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan by Paris.
Macron also has a strong personal relationship with Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, who is seen as one of the most powerful figures in the Gulf, along with his close ally Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.
Analysts believe Macron and MBZ are united by a shared distrust of political Islam and particularly activities of Islamist political parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East.
They also both have thorny relations with Turkey under its strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even if there have been signs of a thaw in ties between Ankara and the UAE and Paris over the last weeks.
“The discussion will focus on the strategic partnership between the two countries and on all regional issues,” the Elysee said in a brief statement ahead of the talks.
They were also to visit the historic theatre at the Fontainebleau Palace built between 1853 and 1856 under the nephew of emperor Napoleon I, Napoleon III, which has been painstakingly restored thanks to UEA funding.
It opened in 1857 but was used only a dozen times, before being abandoned in 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III.
During a state visit to France in 2007, Sheikh Khalifa, MBZ’s half-brother and ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, was reportedly so entranced by the abandoned theatre he offered 10 million euros on the spot for its restoration.
Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it has become a symbol of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi.
The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by MBZ and Macron in 2017, the first foreign institution to carry the name of the great Paris museum.