INTERVIEW: Ambassador Hend Al-Otaiba hopes to bring art, history, and culture of UAE to France – Arab News
PARIS: On Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, Hend Al-Otaiba presented her credentials to French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris as the first-ever female ambassador of the UAE to France. Today, she shares with Arab News en Francais an experience she describes as “intense, full of fruitful meetings, events, visits, and projects.”
Francophone and expert in strategic communications, Al-Otaiba speaks about the recent state visit of UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to France and discusses the strong links that unite the two countries in the fields of energy, culture, and business.
Her flagship initiative during the past year has been the organization of the Majlons — a series of discussions and debates bringing together French and Emirati experts. She shares the details of the Majlons, a concept that combines Majlis of the Gulf and the salons of Enlightenment in France.
On a more personal note, the envoy reveals her favorite French discoveries and her experiences as an Emirati woman and mother living in France, a country where she feels “at home.”
Q. UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan was on a state visit to France in July, the first one at such a level since 1991. Why was the visit that important and how do you assess its outcome?
The president’s state visit to France was an important milestone in the deep and longstanding relationship between the UAE and France, continuing the legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed’s first presidential visit to France in 1975. It was a highly productive visit, focused on strengthening partnerships and joint investments touching on both the public and private sectors.
Many important issues were raised in discussions, with 10 memoranda of understanding developed covering education, security, culture, and sustainability. The conversations looked to the future, with commitments to innovation in areas such as space exploration and health.
Energy and the future of energy security was a major topic throughout the visit, with a number of valuable discussions looking forward to objectives ahead of COP28 (UN climate change conference) in the UAE next year.
The launch of the UAE-France Business Council, bringing together 18 French and Emirati business leaders to innovate in energy, transport, and investment, is an opportunity to collaborate further.
The UAE and France place particular emphasis on their cultural partnership and in July, Noura Al-Kaabi, the UAE minister of culture and youth, and Rima Abdul Malak, the French minister of culture met to discuss the strong cultural relationship between France and the UAE, reinforcing the partnership built on trust, openness, and dialogue.
Q. Energy was one of the main highlights of the visit, but we also know that diesel is not included into the range of oil products supplied by the UAE to France. Any changes to expect regarding this after the visit?
The sustainability of our future energy is a major shared priority. During the visit, the Comprehensive Strategic Energy Partnership was signed to acknowledge that both countries will focus on improving energy security and climate action, while reducing carbon emissions, ahead of COP28 in the UAE.
A memorandum of understanding on climate action was developed between the office of the UAE special envoy for climate change and the French government.
And it’s also very positive that during the state visit, TotalEnergies and ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.) signed a major deal which includes the provision of diesel fuel by the UAE. This agreement is now being rolled out.
We will continue to work together closely to ensure energy security across a range of areas and technologies.
Q. Post-oil economy is becoming a priority for both France and the UAE: How can your country benefit from the French experience in terms of energy transition to a non-oil economy?
We are constantly learning from each other, partnering to build technologies and systems that will benefit both our countries and others around the globe.
The UAE and France have many strong partnerships focused on energy transition. The Emerge partnership between the UAE’s Masdar (future energy company) and France’s EDF (multinational electric utility firm) looks to the future of solar technology, and they are jointly taking on large projects.
The strategic partnership between ADNOC and TotalEnergies will enable us to explore new opportunities for innovation and growth across the energy value chain. This relationship and many others highlight our commitment to both government partnerships and private-sector collaboration in tackling global energy challenges.
As part of Expo 2020, the UAE worked with Siemens Energy to start the green hydrogen project to explore options for sustainable production of hydrogen. France has committed to working with the UAE on developing hydrogen technology, with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. and EDF signing a 2021 memorandum of understanding to further research and development in this area.
Q. France is today the third-biggest investor in the UAE, how does this translate in different sectors?
France and the UAE benefit from productive investment relationships across numerous sectors. France has a significant presence in the UAE, including in energy, water, and hospitality. The UAE is home to the largest number of French companies in the Middle East, which collectively employ more than 30,000 people.
An important area of partnership is marine transport, where France’s CMA CGM (container transportation and shipping company) has invested in Abu Dhabi Ports to establish a new terminal, which will be a state-of-the-art addition to the growing port.
There is significant collaboration in technology and innovation, with Dubai being named a certified French Tech Hub since 2016, resulting in annual awards to impressive startups. This year, the UAE has launched NextGenFDI to attract further companies and talent, supporting them to launch and scale within the UAE. We expect this to be an exciting opportunity for companies in France and worldwide.

photo 3
UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan was on a state visit to France in July. (Supplied)

Q. What have been the learnings from the Majlon project experience, this series of events at the embassy, and how does it achieve the objective of strengthening synergies between the two countries?
The embassy’s Majlons, a series of expert-led discussions and debates, draw on traditions from both the UAE and France – the community information-sharing majlis of the Gulf, and the enlightenment-era salon discussions of France.
For example, the interfaith dialogue and peaceful coexistence Majlon focused on the importance of open discussion, with religious representatives coming together to share ideas.
The Majlon series allows true openness and connection between people of different backgrounds and experience. It is a unique opportunity for the people of the UAE and France to learn more about each other’s rich heritage and culture.
Q. How do you see Majlon’s future and are there any future Majlon events that you can announce now?
The Majlon series has been an excellent opportunity to deepen the relationship between the people of the UAE and France, providing participants with the chance to learn more about a range of topics and aspects of our two cultures. The series is a platform for development of initiatives by French and UAE partners, an opportunity to build and seal future partnerships, and to develop projects in various fields.
The future for the Majlon series is bright. Future events will tackle themes such as culture, media, youth, education, and investment opportunities between France and the UAE. We look forward to sharing more information about future events in due course.

photo 4
Al-Otaiba shared in an interview with Arab News her favorite French discoveries and her experiences as an Emirati woman and mother living in France. (Supplied)

Q. What are the main monuments and events you have visited in France? By which ones have you been the most impressed, and why?
It has been a pleasure to live in France this past year and get to know the country and its culture better. It was very special to be in France for the Bastille Day celebrations on July 14 – it is a magnificent celebration and is a powerful political, historical, and symbolic event in France.
I have had the opportunity to visit many of the beautiful landmarks, monuments, and events that are features of French heritage. Some recent stand-out experiences include my visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, where I saw a strong commitment to arts, culture, and history. Created by Gehry Partners and open since 2014, it is a remarkable place for dialogue and reflection. With a strong emphasis on accessibility to art nationally and internationally, so many people can experience their exhibits, collections, and events.
Another highlight was my wonderful visit to Chateau de Chantilly, home to centuries of history and a hub of French cultural heritage. From the house to the garden and the great stables, we could experience so many pieces of French history.
I also enjoyed my visit to the south of France, in particular the beauty of the paysage. With gorgeous views of nature, architecture, not to mention the French cuisine, it was an enormous pleasure to travel and enjoy the tranquility.
Closer to Paris, I love to visit Fontainebleau, with walks to see the wildlife in Fontainebleau Forest and to appreciate the history of the royal Chateau de Fontainebleau. While there, it is wonderful to visit the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Theater, carefully restored to its former glory and an example of the French commitment to history and heritage.
Q. With the Louvre and the Sorbonne, France has today a strong cultural presence in the UAE. What about the UAE culture in France? Any plans?
There are strong cultural ties between France and the UAE, present in both countries, and there are always projects that are furthering this connection. This has proven invaluable for both Emiratis and the French.
We can see growing awareness and use of the Arabic language in France, as illustrated by the recent agreement between Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) and the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center to cooperate on an Arabic language certificate. This follows similar changes in the UAE to support the teaching of French, with the introduction of French as the third compulsory language in public schools, and the inauguration of a French language radio network.
The Sheikh Zayed center at the Louvre Museum pays tribute to the UAE’s founding father and brings the cultural relationship between the two countries into the heart of Paris.
Other spaces including the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theater further represent the UAE’s commitment to being a part of French restoration and the protection of its heritage. We saw this on show again when six Emirati artists represented the UAE at the Revelations International Biennial in Paris.
We look forward to future opportunities to bring the art, history, and culture of the UAE to the Hexagon.
Q. The Arab world, Islam, and Arab communities are today at the heart of the internal French social-political debate. As an Arab ambassador, are there any specific steps you intend to take to forge better relations between the Arab world (and communities) and France?
Coming from the UAE, I am fortunate to be able to tell stories of our heritage and participate in cross-cultural meetings, allowing others to glimpse the openness and constant advancement happening within the UAE.
There are still misconceptions internationally about life in the UAE, including around the roles of women. One of my objectives for people in France and around the world is to see how many bright, strong women are in leadership positions in the UAE – both in the public and private sectors.
In our government, the participation of women is already very high as women make up 66 percent of the UAE public sector workforce and 50 percent of the Federal National Council’s seats. It is important for people to know that, for these and many other reasons, the UAE ranked first in the Arab world and 18th globally in the UN Development Program’s 2020 Gender Equality Index.
We will continue to build cultural partnerships – allowing residents of both countries to visit and explore each other’s stories, history, art, and architecture.
The Majlon series has been an excellent opportunity to share ideas for the future, while our newly forged business partnerships have been an opportunity for different sectors to learn from each other and create lasting ties.

photo 5
Al-Otaiba said the Majlon series allows true openness and connection between people of different backgrounds and experience. (Supplied)

Q. How is life in France as an Emirati woman and mother? How is it different from life in the Emirates?
Being in France is a great opportunity for my family to experience a new culture and new ways of life, and it offers us all the chance to explore and learn. Like the UAE, France offers large cities filled with history, beautiful countryside landscapes, and strong international ties.
Although there are differences such as language, history, and climate, there are many similarities including commitment to cultural heritage, openness to discussion, and a willingness to learn from others that make France feel very familiar. I feel lucky to be able to call both countries home.
Q. After spending one year in France, what does this country mean to you today and how would you describe your interaction with the Emirati diaspora?
France is a special and important place to me, with a rich history and many shared values with my homeland. I have enjoyed getting to know the people and places of France, learning about what similarities connect France and the UAE and understanding how we can benefit from our cultural and geographical differences.
It is wonderful to meet with Emirati students and professionals who have travelled and built lives in France. Working in a variety of sectors, Emiratis living in France are both ambassadors of our culture and bring the history, heritage, and values of France back to the UAE. Of particular note are our doctors and frontline workers who worked tirelessly in France throughout the coronavirus pandemic – we are very proud of their contribution. I look forward to future opportunities to speak and meet with Emiratis living in France.
Q. Women are mostly still under-represented in many fields in many Arab countries, how long do you think is the road toward a confirmation of the real leading role of women?
The empowerment of women is a key issue for me. It is an exciting time in many sectors, including for UAE diplomacy where an impressive generation of female leaders have emerged. Women are part of creating our future and embody our country’s values of openness, tolerance, and cooperation.
I am extremely proud of our government for championing and empowering women, recognizing the value of their passion, skills, and education. Like many of my peers, I am committed to supporting the new generation, providing advice, opportunities for mentorship, and support networks.
* This interview was originally published in French on Arab News en Francais
NEW YORK: The UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan met with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in New York on Thursday, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported. 
The two officials had their meeting on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, according to WAM. 
The officials discussed bilateral relations between the UAE and Ukraine and ways to further develop joint cooperation across various sectors, especially food security and trade exchange.
Al-Nahyan and Kuleba also reviewed the latest developments in the Ukrainian crisis, with the UAE official highlighting his country’s readiness to support all efforts to restore stability and peace through a sustainable diplomatic solution, WAM reported. 
The meeting was attended by Reem bint Ibrahim Al-Hashemy, Minister of State for International Cooperation; Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment; and Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, Assistant Minister for Political Affairs and Permanent Representative of the UAE to the United Nations.
The UAE envoy also met earlier with other counterparts including Gabrielius Landsbergis of Lithuania; Jan Lipavský of the Czech Republic; Zbigniew Rau of Poland; Anniken Huitfeldt of Norway; Urmas Reinsalu of Estonia and Jerome Xavier Walcott of Barbados.
RIYADH: The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the US, and France have expressed their continuing support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, security and stability, and highlighted the importance of holding elections.
The polls would comply with the constitution that calls for Lebanon’s parliament to elect a new president, the officials said in a joint statement.
During their meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly earlier this week, the diplomats said it is critical to elect a president who can unite the Lebanese people and work with regional and international actors to overcome the current crisis.
They called for the formation of a government capable of implementing the structural and economic reforms urgently needed to address Lebanon’s political and economic crises, specifically those needed to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
The three officials said their countries remained willing to work jointly with Lebanon to support the implementation of these fundamental reforms, which are critical to the nation’s future development.
“We acknowledge the critical role the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces — as the legitimate defenders of Lebanon’s sovereignty and internal stability — continue to play in protecting the Lebanese people in a time of unprecedented crisis,” they said.
The representatives affirmed the need for the Lebanese government to implement UN Security Council resolutions 1559, 1701, 1680, 2650 and other relevant international resolutions, including those issued by the Arab League, and commit to the Taif Agreement.
NEW YORK CITY: The UN has received enough pledges of funding to begin the first phase of the salvage operation on the decaying Safer oil tanker, David Gressly, the organization’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, announced on Wednesday.
The vessel, which contains more than 1.14 million barrels of oil, has been moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen for more than seven years. It has had little or no maintenance during that time and its condition has deteriorated to a point where there are growing fears of a catastrophic oil spill.
The planned salvage operation to make it safe is split into two phases: The transfer of the oil from the tanker to another vessel, followed by a permanent storage solution until the political situation in Yemen allows for it to be sold or be transported elsewhere.
Speaking during a briefing on the sidelines of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly, Gressly said 17 countries contributed to raising the $75 million needed for the first phase of the operation, including $10 million from Saudi Arabia, in addition to contributions from private sector, public foundations and a crowdfunding campaign organized by the UN. A second donation of $7 million by the Netherlands ensured the target was reached.
Donors need to follow through on their pledges by delivering the cash but Gressly told Arab News he is hopeful that the money will be in hand by the end of this month “because it’s already happening.”
He added that he senses a “high degree of will,” that he does not normally see, to tackle this problem because the cost of failure is so high. If the oil spills into the Red Sea the clean-up operation could cost about $30 billion. Such an environmental disaster would not only affect Yemen but also neighboring countries, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. In addition fisheries would be damaged and shipping disrupted.
“While most of the money has not yet come in, most of the agreements have now been signed, which are the prerequisite for the actual funds to be transferred,” Gressly told Arab News.
“So I’m pretty confident that by the end of this month, September, there will be more than enough resources to do the initial round of contracts required to go forward. We have very hard commitments from those who have yet to sign contracts to do so.”
Tim Lenderking, the US Special Envoy for Yemen, said during the briefing that this positive development is the result of a combined effort by many countries, including those in the immediate vicinity of the tanker, the private sector and ordinary citizens who responded to a GoFundMe campaign organized by the UN. It came within “the context of the truce in Yemen,” he added.
“The Yemeni conflict has enjoyed progress; a lot of hard work between the UN, US, the Saudi-led coalition, the Yemeni government, (and) the Houthis agreeing to the truce and largely abiding by it,” said Lenderking.
Reflecting on the benefits of the existing truce for the people of Yemen — civilian casualties have fallen by 60 percent, four times more fuel is now entering Yemeni ports, and more than 21,000 people who had been “pinned in the country” since 2016 have been able to travel internationally from Sanaa airport following the resumption of commercial flights — Lenderking told Arab News that he believes the door is open for a “durable ceasefire” to be agreed in the months ahead.
He described the Houthi cooperation that helped achieve the truce on April 2, then extend it in June and again in August, as “a very positive step.”
The latest extension expires in 10 days and Lenderking said all parties with an interest in peace in Yemen are looking at the way forward with the aim of reaching a permanent political solution.
“We see strong signals from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from the UAE, from the Sultanate of Oman,” he said. “And again, within the (five permanent members of the UN Security Council) there is a convergence of views that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict, that there must be a process of reaching a political agreement.
“I can say that the international community is really united around seeing that the truce is expanded, and that those benefits that are accruing to the Yemenis from the truce are developed further.”
Lenderking said the US “would like to see more oil enter the market through Hodeidah port and used to power food mills, hospitals, schools and the transportation network.”
He said even the Iranian authorities, who back the Houthis, welcomed the truce “both in April and again in June.” But he added that “we need Iranian behavior to match these positive reactions to the truce,” as he called on the regime in Tehran to stop arming and training the Houthis.
The Houthis control Yemen’s western Red Sea ports, including Ras Issa, where the Safer is moored. The UN had been negotiating with the rebel group for years to gain permission for experts to examine the tanker. Both sides signed a memorandum of understanding in March, authorizing a four-month emergency operation to eliminate the immediate threat by transferring the oil on the tanker to another vessel.
“We are very keen to see an end to this potential disaster,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak told Arab News on Wednesday at an event hosted by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York.
“We are supporting all the initiatives by the UN … Yemen cannot afford such a disaster. It would cost Yemen directly more than $21 billion. It would damage not just the Red Sea but the effects would be harmful to the planet.”
In the longer term, the memorandum of understanding calls for replacing the Safer within 18 months with a vessel capable of safely holding a similar quantity of oil.
“We rely on the UN and the international community to make sure this plan will be implemented and to avoid any interruption that will delay the process,” Hannah Omar, from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, told Arab News.
“For us it is really important to end this catastrophe and ensure that the Red Sea is safer after this implementation.”
The Safer’s structure, equipment and operating systems have deteriorated over the years, leaving it at risk of springing a leak, exploding or catching fire. The UN has warned for years that an oil spill from it could be four times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska in 1989, which is still considered the world’s worst oil spill in terms of environmental damage.
Experts estimate a major leak could severely damage Red Sea ecosystems upon which about 30 million people depend, including 1.6 million Yemenis, according to the UN.
The emergency has been ongoing for five years, yet it was only in the spring of this year that funding pledges began to come through.
The total pledge of $14 million from the Netherlands was a significant contribution toward hitting the target for the first phase.
Marc Gerristen, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Arab News that delay in reaching the funding target was largely due to the fact that it took time to convince people of the need to contribute.
“It’s very complicated, of course, to raise awareness if the scope of the problem is not yet completely clear,” he said, adding that the first challenge, therefore, was to make sure everyone understood the scale and severity of the situation.
“The UN played a very important role in this,” he said. “So this is something that was a collective effort, led by the UN. But when it came to mobilizing resources, getting others on board to pledge, this started about one or two years ago.
“This is when the UN looked for a lead country and this is where we (the Netherlands) took off the gloves, so to speak, and gladly played that role.”
CAIRO: The Palestinian cause was among the topics discussed when Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, and Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, met on Wednesday on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly.
Their representatives said the two officials talked about a number of matters related to international crises, along with the latest developments in the Middle East.
A spokesperson for Aboul Gheit said the Arab League chief expressed to Guterres his appreciation of the important role the UN leader has played during the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Guterres reportedly spoke about the current situation in the Middle East and the role of the UN in Somalia, Yemen and Syria.
Aboul Gheit also highlighted the great frustration Palestinians feel as a result of the number of political obstructions to their cause. Both men agreed that the Palestinian issue remains a priority in efforts to achieve stability and prosperity in the region.
They expressed their commitment to working together as part of a coordinated approach to seek political solutions to the crises facing some countries in the region.
In a message posted on Twitter, Aboul Gheit wrote: “We agreed on the danger of ignoring the serious efforts to settle the Palestinian issue and the importance of continuing our joint work for this purpose.
“The international situation is very difficult and thorny, yet Guterres is working tirelessly on various political, environmental, developmental, and other fronts.”
Aboul Gheit also met Ian Borg, Malta’s minister of foreign and European affairs and trade on Wednesday, and congratulated him on his country earning a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2023-2024. He said the Arab League is counting on Malta’s support for Arab issues on the council’s agenda during that time, especially those related to the Palestinian cause.
Last week, Aboul Gheit called on Spain to support Palestine’s bid for full membership of the UN, amid preparations for a new diplomatic drive for recognition. Palestine is currently afforded observer status by the UN. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is due to speak at the General Assembly on Sept. 23 and highlight the campaign for full membership.
A spokesperson said Abou Gheit leader had met Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares in Madrid to discuss issues of common interest and ways to enhance bilateral relations.
GAZIANTEP, Turkey: When a Syrian prison guard tossed him into a dimly lit room, the inmate Abdo was surprised to find himself standing ankle-deep in what appeared to be salt.
On that day in the winter of 2017, the terrified young man had already been locked up for two years in war-torn Syria’s largest and most notorious prison, Sednaya.
Having been largely deprived of salt all that time in his meager prison rations, he brought a handful of the coarse white crystals to his mouth with relish.
Moments later came the second, grisly, surprise: As a barefoot Abdo was treading gingerly across the room, he stumbled on a corpse, emaciated and half-buried in the salt.
Abdo soon found another two bodies, partially dehydrated by the mineral.
He had been thrown into what Syrian inmates call “salt rooms” — primitive mortuaries designed to preserve bodies in the absence of refrigerated morgues.
The corpses were being treated in a way already known to the embalmers of ancient Egypt, to keep up with the industrial-scale prison killings under President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The salt rooms are described in detail for the first time in an upcoming report by the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison, or ADMSP.
In additional research and interviews with former inmates, AFP found that at least two such salt rooms were created inside Sednaya.
Abdo, a man from Homs now aged 30 and living in eastern Lebanon, asked that his real name not be published for fear of reprisals against him and his family.
Speaking in his small rental flat in an unfinished building, he recounted the day he was thrown into the salt room, which served as his holding cell ahead of a military court hearing.
“My first thought was: May God have no mercy on them!” he said. “They have all this salt but don’t put any in our food!
“Then I stepped on something cold. It was someone’s leg.”
Up to 100,000 people have died in Syrian regime prisons since 2011, a fifth of the war’s entire death toll, according to Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Abdo, fortunate to have survived, described the salt room on the first floor of the red building as a rectangle of roughly six by eight meters (20 by 26 feet), with a rudimentary toilet in a corner.
“I thought this would be my fate: I would be executed and killed,” he said, recalling how he curled up in a corner, crying and reciting verses from the Qur’an.
The guard eventually returned to escort him to the court, and Abdo lived to tell the tale.
On his way out of the room, he had noticed a pile of body bags near the door.
Like tens of thousands of others, he had been jailed on blanket terrorism charges. He was released in 2020 but says the experience scarred him for life.
“This was the hardest thing I ever experienced,” he said. “My heart died in Sednaya. If someone announced the death of my brother right now, I wouldn’t feel anything.”


Leave a Comment

Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

Welcome to FactsPrime

Sorry, We have detected that you have activated Ad-Blocker. Please Consider supporting us by disabling your Ad Blocker, It helps us in maintaining this website. To View the content, Please disable adblocker and refresh the page.

Thank You !!!