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France and Qatar: an uncomfortable relationship

They are the kings of Parisian Monopoly. Royal-Monceau, Peninsula, Café de la paix, Intercontinental le Grand… Qataris have conquered the capital over the years, via Katara Hospitality, a division of their sovereign wealth fund devoted to the hotel industry. Thanks to a true Francophilia and a benevolent tax system, the reigning Al-Thani family has itself taken up residence in Paris where it associates the emirate with big names in culture at the Hôtel de la marine. A less flashy presence, but just as political as the ubiquitous Paris Saint-Germain team, flagship property of the wealthy emirate since 2011 via the Qatar Sports Investments fund (QSI, created in 2005).

The list of Qatari investments in France is endless and extends to the Côte d’Azur, to the point of giving rise in recent years to a whole journalistic literature around the question ” Is Qatar buying France? ». Very clever, however, the one who could have foreseen such a frenzy of investments when the two countries began to take language at the independence of the emirate in 1971.

default interest

At the time, gasdollars had not yet begun to rain on this territory still perceived as a small outgrowth of Saudi Arabia. “Before its independence, Qatar was the only country in the region where there was no oil, let alone gas. It was the last of the brood to which the English paid no attention; for them Bahrain was the center of the Gulf. The French went to Qatar by default, initially, because the British crown was not interested in it,” recalls Marc Lavergne, research director at the CNRS and specialist in the Gulf.

“With the exploitation of gas, the youngest has become the first. The Qataris bought weapons and started by offering contracts to Total. The company then exploited deposits, trained personnel, and held the keys to Qatar’s vault,” summarizes the researcher.

This pioneering side has created deep links between Paris and Doha. A relationship good, strong, historical and very solid” assures the current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, in power since 2013. Our mutual understanding with France is excellent and we are proud of it,” he recently told the weekly Pointin a meticulous communication operation prepared for months.

“Rolex Diplomacy”

However, the Franco-Qatarian relationship is not a long calm river. The links between the two ruling forties, the Emir Tamim and Emmanuel Macron, differ from the tandem between Hamad Al-Thani and Nicolas Sarkozy, whose name is permanently associated with that of Qatar. When he arrived at the Élysée in 2007, the new president was not familiar with the wealthy emirate. “It was his very discreet secretary general at the Élysée, Claude Guéant, who played the missi dominici between Paris and Doha”, says Christian Chesnot, author of Qatar, The secrets of a planetary influence (1).

Investments, contracts, but also gifts… Nicolas Sarkozy’s mandate corresponds to a period when Doha has, it is said, easy checks. Several French political personalities are suspected of having crunched the largesse of what is then nicknamed the “Rolex diplomacy”. The journalist even reveals that there was a scale of gifts lavished at the time according to the rank of the lucky beneficiary

This honeymoon also corresponds to a phase of diplomatic convergence on several issues, such as the war in Libya, which has since become an irritant between the two capitals. But certain investments, linked to the emirate’s proximity to the Muslim Brotherhood, create suspicion. “France thought they were quite comfortable given the smallness of Qatar. The Qatari money, the relatively discreet way in which they spent it, was welcome. We were less wary of Qatar than of Saudi Arabia,” recalls Pierre Conesa, a former senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defense (2).

The Macron turning point

Another complex file that linked the two countries at that time: the awarding of the Football World Cup in 2010, with which the name of Nicolas Sarkozy is still associated. The former president has been under investigation since 2019 for “active and passive corruption” over a November 2010 lunch with two Qatari leaders and Michel Platini, then UEFA boss. Justice seeks to understand if compensations have been negotiated with Doha against the crucial vote of Michel Platini. A file all the more complex that, six months after this lunch, QSI bought the PSG for 76 million euros from the American fund Colony Capital, directed by a close friend of … Nicolas Sarkozy.

“The relationship under Sarkozy gave Qatar a hand, summarizes Marc Lavergne. It was not Qatar that was small. Its elites have taken the measure of the spinelessness of people who can be bought like that. »

If the presidency of François Hollande marks a break – apart from the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets to the emirate in the spring of 2015 – the Paris-Doha axis changes its appearance with the coming to power of Emmanuel Macron. “Qatar is starting to make a mess in France. There are files and criticisms related to the Islam of France. That they invest in real estate and hotels, but not in mosques and in associations with the Muslim Brotherhood via the NGO Qatar Charity. Macron was headwind on this”, recalls Christian Chesnot. In his 2017 campaign, the candidate also proposed to remove the tax advantages favoring Qatar – which he has not done to date.

MBZ’s competition

On the Qatari side, another casus belli confirms the tension with regard to Emmanuel Macron: the honeymoon between the French president and the great regional rival of Doha, Mohammed Ben Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and main leader of the United Arab Emirates. The rapprochement between the two men is experienced as a stab from Qatar, especially since there is no chemistry between Macron and Tamim.

“There was no tilt between them, while MBZ looks more like the French president. With these little disenchantments, this misunderstanding, the relationship is not warm, it is flat, dull and certainly not what it should be. judge the journalist, who affirms that in December 2017, Macron returns the gifts of the emir after his visit to Doha for an agreement on the Rafales.

France considered ungrateful

Behind the scenes, Doha finds that France is showing ingratitude after the 25 billion euros invested in the French economy and old cooperation. A feeling that is all the stronger when Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne suggests that she “did not plan to go to Qatar for the World Cup”.

“There is a lot of hypocrisy on the French side. They have been rinsed out by Qatar and hold their noses when we are going to negotiate gas contracts. The Qataris are a bit miffed and will make us pay for it at some point,” believes Christian Chesnot. A “crash test” of the relationship will be the opening match of the World Cup on November 20, for which Emmanuel Macron has already received an official invitation from the Qatari authorities. Will go? Won’t go?


Half a century of fruitful partnership

Qatar gained independence from Britain on September 3, 1971. time when Paris approaches the new emirate.

A year later, France became one of the first countries to host a Qatari diplomatic mission, with the opening of the Qatar embassy in France.

Military cooperation between the two countries begins with two defense agreements in 1994 then in 1998, one of the pillars of the Franco-Qatarian relationship.

In 2015, François Hollande’s France sold 24 planes Rafale (Dassault Aviation) combat aircraft in Qatar.

At the end of 2017, Emmanuel Macron signs contracts for 11 billion euros with Qatar, notably for the sale of at least 12 Rafales and several hundred armored vehicles.

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