Art for sale: how Saudi Arabia is buying French culture

By Antoine Pecqueur

Saudi Arabia has forged a major partnership with France to develop the huge site of Al Ula in the north-west of the country, an ancient area which is set to become a major tourist and cultural attraction. An exhibition about Al Ula is running at the Arab World Institute in Paris until March 8th. As Antoine Pecqueur reports, culture is becoming a geopolitical Trojan Horse for the Saudi Kingdom as it seeks to boost its international standing, with France as one of its key partners. Meanwhile French businesses are queuing up to get involved.

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It is impossible to miss the giant poster in front of the Arab World Institute (AWI) on the banks of the River Seine in Paris. It reads: “Al-Ula: Merveille d'Arabie” ('Al Ula: Marvel of Arabia'), the title of an exhibition at the institute. The word 'Saudi' does not accompany Arabia in the title; some speculate this was done so as not to put off the Parisian public.