For Michel Guerrin, editor-in-chief at the "World", the billion euros that Abu Dhabi has set to have his Louvre "is a joke" compared to the ancient site of Al-Ula. A project on which Riyad put, with the help of France, to open the country to tourism.
Thethe date falls badly for the Institute of the Arab World (IMA), in Paris. On October 9th, this museum opens an exhibition on Al-Ula, a site in the north-west of Saudi Arabia, as big as Belgium, in the middle of the desert and of a crazy richness. Seven thousand years of history. Who risk being blurred by an event that occurred a year ago, when the Saudi regime had cut the opponent Jamal Khashoggi into his Istanbul consulate. A telescoping between beauty and sordid.
Let's go wider. On the one hand, an ultra-religious monarchy, headed by Prince Mohammed Ben Salman, aka "MBS", who throws in prison, sometimes torture, represses the least opponent, women subject to male guardianship for daily actions (getting married, opening a bank account, etc.), imprisoned feminist activists, a state that is bogged down in a dirty war in Yemen. On the other, a wealthy customer who sells lots of products. Weapons. A lot of culture too.
The assassination of Khashoggi did nothing to slow down the presence of cultural France on the spot. This is true in archeology, cinema, arts, festivals, music or opera. The money of the kingdom also comes to us. 17 million euros to the Louvre to develop, in 2005, its department of the arts of Islam. 5 million to renovate the building of the IMA including its moucharabiehs. The Al-Ula exhibition is financed by the Saudi regime (1 million euros). "We worked independently", swears Jack Lang, president of the Institute. When we ask this friend of the Gulf, that some nickname "Jack of Arabia"if he has a problem with trading with this regime, he remains faithful to a reputation that has succeeded him. "I am an unstoppable optimist. "
So Jack Lang says that cultural exchanges are a good lever to move manners and that a "Unprecedented climate" reigns in Riyadh for two years. Feeling confirmed by specialists. Women, for example, can drive a car or travel alone abroad. But our same specialists nuance. A woman must learn to drive with a woman, her lessons cost six times more than for a man, she has to buy a car from a woman with money given by a man.