Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef himself requested to be honored with the prestigious award of Legion d’Honneur, a French magazine has revealed.
Causette published this week a series of email exchanges between French officials showing they accepted a request by the Saudi prince to award him the prestigious award earlier this month.
“No reason not to do it: It must be discreet concerning the media, without covering it up,” said the North Africa/Middle East director of the French Foreign Ministry in response to warnings that the awarding would raise questions due to Saudi Arabia’s bad reputation in human rights.
The French ambassador to Riyadh had warned advisors in the presidency and foreign ministry ahead of the awarding that the move may stir controversy in the media.
The official in the foreign ministry responded by saying that if questioned why the award should be given to Prince Nayef, the government “should respond ‘(for the) fight against Daesh and economic partnership’. Of course, let’s add, for good measure, elements about human rights,” Causette reported.
The Saudi press agency SPA announced the news of the award for the first time as French officials had remained silent on the issue. The announcement triggered a harsh criticism on social media, with many highlighting the role of Nayef, who is also the Saudi interior minister, in the kingdom’s human rights violations.
The French magazine also revealed that the awarding was done at the request of Nayef, saying he had asked for the honor “at a time in which he seeks to boost his international stature.”
The report said French President Francois Hollande gave the green light to the move hours after foreign ministry officials approved it. Hollande awarded Nayef with the Legion d’Honneur during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia comes under regular criticism by human rights groups for its rights records. The kingdom is specially scrutinized for its skyrocketing rate of executions, which exceeded 150 in 2015. Riyadh has also put to death more than 70 this year, including notable human rights campaigners.
The Saudis’ reputation has also suffered over the campaign against Yemen, where international watchdogs say thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced across the impoverished country.
France has been developing warm relations with Saudi Arabia over the past few years with reports suggesting Paris sold billions of dollars worth of weapons to the kingdom on alleged grounds of assisting Riyadh in the fight against Takfiri groups.