French President Francois Hollande is facing criticism for devaluing the highest national award after quietly bequeathing it to a visiting Saudi prince.
Hollande bestowed the Legion d’Honneur to the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, allegedly for his efforts against terrorism, despite his many human rights failures.
The crown prince’s visit to the Elysee Palace took place on Friday, March 5, the same day President Hollande held a dialogue with Angela Merkel on the refugee crisis.
A Hollande aide said Nayef received the honor as a “foreign individual, a common protocol practice,” adding that the French president himself received Saudi Arabia’s top awards during one of its visits.
The French government was one of the loudest outside of Middle East to denounce Saudi Arabia’s mass execution earlier in the year, calling the killing of 47 people “deeply deplorable.” Yet, just two months after the statement was issued, France awarded their most prestigious honor to Prince Nayef.
Although the French president’s talk with Merkel was highly publicized, there was no such mention of the visiting Saudi dignitary. The statement the interior minister of Saudi Arabia was given the award was released on Sunday afternoon even as the French government aides tried to play it down.
People across France and the U.K. both displayed outrage on Sunday night that the symbolically significant award went to a delegate of Saudi Arabia, which has executed as many as 70 people since the start of the year and is notorious for funding terrorist organizations.
Wow - Crown Prince Nayef of Saudi Arabia *secretly* awarded with the medal of the Legion of Honor by Hollande. https://t.co/Q1tDyAEtIQ— Katerina Alexandridi (@kalexandridi) March 6, 2016
So even the Legion d'Honneur is up for sale these days? https://t.co/88WwG3IsZW— Ghassan Dahhan (@GhassanDahhan) March 6, 2016
But mass executions and human rights violations weren't on the docket for the meeting between Nayef and Hollande. The pair "reviewed bilateral relations between kingdom and France," and sought out ways to expand them especially for fighting extremism and terrorism.
None of the reports makes any mention of the migrants crisis, a predicament that Saudi Arabia has long since been accused of ignoring.