Sharjah has an amazing culture, says French Ambassador Xavier Chatel - GulfToday

Sharjah has an amazing culture, says French Ambassador Xavier Chatel


Xavier Chatel: “One of the first things I did in Sharjah was visit the book fair.”

Shereen Afifi

Alliance Francaise Dubai is holding its first Together & Now Festival, from 4 - 7 March 2021. The four-day festival promotes eco-consciousness and sustainability goals among families in Dubai through inspiring films, conferences, markets and workshops.

Xavier Chatel, French Ambassador to the UAE (who was appointed in September 2020) was among the dignitaries who graced the festival. The Gulf Today had an exclusive interview with Chatel in which he discussed upcoming joint projects to promote sustainability, ways of spreading French culture and language in the UAE, views on Sharjah and ties between the UAE and France.

How does France see sustainability as a goal and joint project with the UAE?

The entire issue of sustainability is one of a number of things we focus on in France. Take for example the emergence of International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), which is based in Abu Dhabi. We contributed a lot to the emergence of this agency in the UAE.  Also, in the field of renewables, EDF (French power company) recently won a tender to build at Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi the largest photovoltaic field in the world. So a huge facility is yet to be built.

How do you see collaboration with the government regarding eco-friendly  facilities here?

I spend a large part of my time engaging with leaders and business people here. I was lucky enough to meet with his Excellency Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber (Minister for Industry and Advanced Technology), who was designated as “climate czar”. We discussed prospective projects like cooperating on blue and green hydrogen. And I mentioned hydrogen, because in France we have an economic recovery plan, worth a hundred billion Euros, out of which 7 billion will be dedicated to hydrogen.

At the same time there’s going to be in Dubai a Francofilm festival which will take place until March 11 and will feature a number of movies that underline the sustainable development goals. The opening film, “Red Soil” by Farid Bentoumi, tackles these issues.

How are you planning to promote French culture and the French language here in the UAE?

It is a big objective to me. There are many ways in which we are contributing to this. One of them is what Alliance Francaise Dubai is doing by providing lessons of excellent quality.

Our ambition and our hope is also to open an Alliance Francaise in Sharjah. If that happens, I really encourage people to take advantage, to take French classes there.

Beyond this, one of our priorities is the reintroduction of French in schools : we already started in grades 9 to 12 and the next step  will be to continue from grade 6 to 9. That means a lot of young Emiratis (and other people) will have the opportunity to learn a good level of French from school. This is crucial because our goal is to have the full series years of study so afterwards, when they graduate, they can pursue their higher education within the French system, like in Sorbonne university for example.

What are the upcoming venues of cultural cooperation between France and the UAE?

We have an incredible wealth of joint cultural projects like Louvre Abu Dhabi, maybe the biggest cultural cooperation project France has worked on worldwide.

Then we are working on a number of areas as we try to address all aspects of culture, not only visual arts. I am thinking of music with exciting projects of cooperation, for example trainings with the French Conservatoire of Paris.

Are you planning something like a student exchange?

We want to attract more UAE students to France. In this regard, we will be publishing on our Twitter account short videos, stories of people from the Emirates who went to France to study there. Let me also mention that we have scholarships for Emirati doctors who want to complete their studies in France.

Have you ever been to Sharjah?

I have been to Sharjah and I have a particular thing for Sharjah. That is because it is a place where culture is amazing.

One of the first things I did here is that I went to the book fair where I visited the French pavilion and other stands where I felt very welcome.

I also visited the Sharjah Art Foundation, the incredible contemporary Arab Art Connection, and I had the chance to meet with HH Hoor al Qassemi, and also with my friend Saood Sultan Al Qassemi. We had some beautiful exchanges on Sharjah Art Foundation and I think the renovation of the whole area has been done with a lot of taste. I must say that I really liked the collection.

How do you see relations between UAE and France and contribution of the French community here?

The French population here is about 30,000. Its population, which is growing, is the most dynamic in the Gulf. The community brings technology, knowhow, and entrepreneurs with more lofty goals like protecting the environment. When it comes to the relationship between the two countries, it’s really excellent. It makes it very comfortable for the ambassador to be here because the leaders have dense conversation, they speak very often. There’s a level of confidence which is very deep among them and a big solidarity too.

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