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In Wake of Khashoggi Murder, France Moves Forward with Multi-Billion-Dollar Cultural Initiative in Saudi Arabia

Shortly after Turkish officials confirmed that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered in the Saudi Consulate building in Istanbul earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron issued an official decree stating that plans for the French and Saudi cultural project of Al-Ula Province in Saudi Arabia would continue, reports the Art Newspaper.

Macron and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman committed to the multi-billion-dollar cultural and tourism center—projected to be three times the size of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in November 2017—with an agreement signed in Paris this April. The initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a plan outlining a number of goals and reforms that aim to ensure the country’s long-term economic success by moving away from its dependence on oil.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia rejected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call to extradite Khashoggi’s suspected killers, who tortured, killed, and dismembered the journalist on October 2, reports Democracy Now! The investigation into the murder is still ongoing. Although the Saudi royal family denies involvement, Turkish authorities maintain they ordered the killing.

After Khashoggi’s assassination, both arts and non-arts institutions around the world began to reconsider their ties with the Saudi government. Two weeks ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum in New York announced that they would reject Saudi funding for Arab art exhibitions.

The France–Saudi deal promises French institutions and companies the majority of contracts for the project, ranging from culture, education, training, transport, urban planning, tourist infrastructure, and more in the Al-Ula Province, which is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site Al-Hijr and is nearly the size of Belgium. Additional partnerships between Saudi Arabia and France were further promised with the signings of memoranda of understanding with the Centre Pompidou, the Théâtre de l’Opéra, and the Institut du Monde Arabe, among other institutions.