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RIYADH: In a recent high-profile interview with Arab News in French, Estelle Pagnon-Pouille, wife of the French Ambassador, spoke about bilateral relations between France and Saudi Arabia, the economy and the rapidly changing society of the country, and how it has developed a deep affinity with the Kingdom due to the hospitality of its people.
Pagnon-Pouille said she found the country “really fascinating”.
“It is a country with varied traditions. We don’t find the same traditional clothing and architecture in different regions,” she noted.
“What impressed me the most were the landscapes,” said Pagnon-Pouille. “You have wonders like the hidden gem, AlUla, which I had the chance to visit three times. You can visit the mountainous areas of Tabuk, and I must also attend the Rose Festival in Taif. We recently visited Hofuf and its Yellow Lake, then the magnificent Al-Hasa, which is one of the oldest and largest oases in the world.”
She urged French tourists to visit Saudi Arabia. “It is very important to change your outlook on this country, where important societal changes are taking place. You have to discover it to learn more about its cultural and historical heritage.
She says AlUla is her favorite region. “It’s a somewhat mystical region because the mountains seem to embody people who watch over this valley. And then, of course, we have all these projects coming out, with the archaeological discoveries that have been made by many Franco-Saudi teams since Laila Nehme’s mission to Hegra in 2002,” she said, referring to the Franco-Lebanese archaeologist. , known for her research on the Nabataean writings and her excavations at Petra and Mada’in Saleh.
She added that the Lihyanite, Dadanite and Nabataean peoples who lived in AlUla reveal that the Kingdom has always been a place of interaction and exchange between Asia, Africa, the Arab world and the West.
On her mission as ambassador wife, Pagnon-Pouille shared some of her daily activities saying, “I try to ensure the smooth running of diplomatic relations. I have the chance to meet a lot of Saudi men and women, and I really appreciate the mix that has been in place for a few years. I feel like things have always been like this. »
She also spoke about the position of Saudi women in the labor market and reflected on how “they have become role models for their compatriots like Muneera Al-Dossary, director of investments at HSBC and president of the Commission of the institutions of the market of capitals, Her Highness Princess Reema Al-Ruwaysan and Hoda Abdulrahman Alhelaissi, (a) fluent in French (and) a member of the Shoura Council.
She said that the French-Saudi friendship association, “Generation 2030”, was founded in 2019 by young Saudis and French people, initiated by Yousef Alhammadi, Timothée Dufour and Soha Alharbi, who are convinced that young people have a lot to be shared and built together, far from the stubborn clichés that seem to weigh on the citizens of both nations.
Pagnon-Pouille explained to Arab News in Francais that the cooperation takes place at all levels, including between the young Saudi and French talents who work with Mayada Badr. “(It) can be cultural, entrepreneurial and (in terms of) hospitality… like, for example, the collaboration between Saudi designer Shahd Alshehail and French designer Hanane Hotait.
“We also have the young Saudi Jameel Hareedi, trained at the “Cordon Bleu” and returned here to open his own restaurant. It is extremely interesting to see how much can be achieved through Franco-Saudi cooperation,” she said.
Regarding the situation of women in Saudi Arabia, she said that women here have claimed their rights and show intense motivation to succeed in entrepreneurship, finance, culture, art and film.
Pagnon-Pouille gave the example of Noura bin Saidan, who created several works of art in Riyadh Boulevard with the help of her small team. “They are ready to engage in many challenges in all areas. Economically, I am thinking of Muneera Al-Dossary. On the diplomatic front, we have Princess Reema bint Bandar, Ambassador to the United States, and Her Excellency Princess Haifa Al-Mogrin, Ambassador to UNESCO. They are therefore extremely active and make the voice of Saudi women heard. »
Pagnon-Pouille says it also had the chance to welcome three Saudi artists: Fatimah Al-Nemer, Taghrid Al-Bakchi and Najla Al-Salim, who exhibited some forty of their creations.
She also pointed out that during Emmanuel Macron’s visit, the French President launched several projects “in all areas” in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. This included new partnerships related to the digital economy, ecological transition, renewable energies, tourism, sport. , culture, education and health. “French companies are ready, more than ever, to bring their excellence, their innovations and their skills to the Kingdom,” she said.
What she misses the most in France is the Parisian theater, even if she had attended the “magnificent” musical on the life of Umm Kalthoum at Boulevard Riyadh City, as part of the Riyadh Season.
At the end of the interview, Pagnon-Pouille wished all Saudis and Muslims Ramadan Kareem and “a month of spirituality, exchange and sharing”.