VP of Franco-Saudi group hails Saudi reforms as ‘impressive’

PARIS: Social reforms taking place in Saudi Arabia are “impressive,” Vice-President of the France-Saudi Parliamentary Friendship Group and LREM MP Amelia Lakrafi has told Arab News.

Arab News en Francais met Lakrafi to discuss several topics, including French-Saudi relations, her visits to the Arab world, as well as the French presidential and legislative elections.

She said that the parliamentary friendship group of which she is vice-president aims to create links and strengthen relations between France and Saudi Arabia at all levels, stressing the importance of parliamentary diplomacy.

“The cases I have been very involved in are related to region stability, gender equality and the economic emancipation of women, as well as the business input for our French companies, whether they are based in France or in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

She stressed that Saudi women are being given great motivation and are embarking on a path of entrepreneurship. “They now have access to professions they did not have access to before,” she said.

Lakrafi visited the Kingdom in 2016 to represent French women entrepreneurs at the Misk Global Forum. It was there that she first heard about Saudi Vision 2030, as well as the Misk Fund and plans to open up the Kingdom, she said, adding that Saudi efforts to steer away from the “oil and gas stereotype” have resulted in change that is “real, undeniable and very impressive.”

She added: “70 percent of their population is under 30 years old, so they had to answer to these young people’s desire for freedom” describing the developments she noticed from one visit to another.

Lakrafi revealed that her favorite region is AlUla, calling it the “Saudi Petra.” She also praised the Red Sea Festival in Jeddah, which she had the chance to attend.

What surprised her the most were street concerts, men and women socializing together and women without veils, all sitting together, dancing and singing.

“Five years ago, musical instruments were shattered and music was forbidden, so that’s impressive — it’s enjoyable,” she said.

Regarding the French presidential elections, Lakrafi welcomed the new page that President Emmanuel Macron turned on Sunday, adding that he successfully moved away from the traditional party system in previous elections, but managed to consolidate his electoral base this year.

However, the abstention rate still demonstrates a lingering apathy among some voters, Lakrafi added.

“In his speech (on Sunday), I believe that he showed a lot of humility in acknowledging that we now had to rebuild and unify a divided country and that he was the president of all French people,” she said.

In order to to govern effectively, Macron needs a parliamentary majority, Lakrafi noted. She said that though a majority can help prevent a political impasse, Macron, unlike his predecessors, was able to implement 70 percent of his program in his previous term, thus gaining the confidence of voters.

Lakrafi said that she is ready to run for office if her party, LREM, renews its confidence in her. She aspires to carry on with the reforms covering the economy, labor market, social citizenship, schools and health, the unemployment rate for young people and direct investment abroad. She added that France “has become, for the second consecutive year, the first recipient of what we call FDI (foreign direct investment), after Germany.”

Lebanon, which Lakrafi had the chance to visit in March, holds a “special place in the heart of Macron and in the hearts of many French people,” she said.

She added that she is in the process of establishing a medical and social center in Lebanon, in partnership with NGOs and the civil society, to meet the needs of those affected by the Aug. 4 explosion in 2020.

Moreover, regarding the banking crisis in Lebanon, Lakrafi said that she is working on the establishment of “a group to support the victims of the financial crisis in Lebanon. We are still at the beginning and we hope that it can evolve quickly.”

The LREM MP hopes that legislative elections planned in Lebanon can lead to “actual change” and “the emergence of new faces in politics.”

Lakrafi said that she was very pleased that relations between France and the Gulf countries were continuously improving.

The partnerships between the countries is important on the economic level, but also for peace, stability and the fight against radicalization, she said.

“It’s up to us to move forward in this direction.”