DUBAI: France and the rest of Europe can learn from Saudi Arabia’s approach to combating terrorist financing, a prominent French politician and foreign affairs expert told Arab News.
Nathalie Goulet, member of the French Senate and of the country’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said: “Saudi Arabia has its own place in the fight against the financing of terrorism, and it does so very seriously. It corresponds to international standards in this area.
Goulet, who recently returned from a visit to the Kingdom for meetings with senior politicians on the campaign to end terrorist financing, highlighted Saudi initiatives with Etidal, the center for combating extremist ideology, as well than the actions of the Saudi Central Bank and Financial Intelligence. services.
“In Europe and especially in France, there has sometimes been a kind of bad habit of linking Saudi Arabia to the financing of terrorism and we have to break this image and what is now only pure fake news”, she added.
Goulet, speaking just ahead of a visit to the Kingdom by French President Emmanuel Macron, gave his take on “Frankly”, the series of video interviews with prominent regional and international policymakers and businessmen.
In a broad interview, she also touched on the growing threat from the Muslim Brotherhood and its role in the financing of terrorism, the volatile relations between France and Algeria and the reforms in Saudi Arabia as part of the Vision 2030 strategy.
On the financing of terrorism, she contrasted the practice of the Muslim community in France, where zakat donations are made in cash and therefore more difficult to control, with the situation in the Kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia has a system in place to prevent any receipt of zakat in cash. Everything is done by wire transfer to a special NGO and it is very useful, very clever, and also very, very secure.
“When it comes to collecting zakat, Saudi Arabia can be an example for us because we are absolutely unable to track money and at the same time of course most of zakat give (money ) for good purposes. But sometimes it doesn’t and we try to ban cash as much as possible. Saudi Arabia gives us a great example, ”she said.
She noted that the Muslim Brotherhood still plays an important role in financing terrorism in Europe and underlined the organization’s influence in the Islamic community and within humanitarian organizations.
“First of all, they have a lot of humanitarian actions, but then they use the same money to sponsor terrorism all over Europe. We need to ban these people, permanently. Austria has already banned the Muslim Brotherhood in Austria; Germany is on the way. France – not yet – but I’m pushing them a lot, ”she added.
Goulet specifically denounced the role of the Islamic Relief organization, which she said aided the financing of terrorism, supported the Hamas terrorist organization in Palestine and claimed its leaders were responsible for disseminating anti-Semitic messages on social media. .
“So what we need to do is track the money and then try to ban any funding for these people. We need to check and conduct thorough investigations into how they raise money and what they are doing. they are doing with this money, and we absolutely must stop all terrorist financing, ”she said.
The Kingdom’s determination to tackle terrorist financing is one example of the positive changes that have taken place in the country as part of the Vision 2030 reform plan, which is having a profound effect on life in Saudi Arabia.
“When you see the difference in the streets, how happy young people are in the country and when you see the development, it is clear that something has happened. And it is the Vision 2030 of Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman that did it and will bring so much hope to the country, ”added Goulet.
On French foreign policy towards Muslim countries, she thinks the issue is complicated by France’s colonial history. “It’s always very emotional,” she said.
Regarding Algeria, a former colony of France, with which relations are strained due to remarks made by Macron, and some visa problems, Goulet expects the situation to improve, adding that “links with the Algeria are very strong “.
On Lebanon, a country that Macron has visited on several occasions in an attempt to help her weather its escalating crisis, she said the Lebanese people should look to a new political generation to repatriate the products of corruption held in foreign havens, rather than seeking financial bailouts from countries. like France.
However, she spoke out against French policy in Lebanon towards Hezbollah. “For the past 15 years, the government has treated Hezbollah in a very strange way – as if there is a political Hezbollah and a military Hezbollah, and we must ban military Hezbollah from arguing with political Hezbollah.
“But the reality is that there is only one Hezbollah. Just as there is a Hamas, there is a Hezbollah, there is not a soldier and a politician. It’s the same terrorist group, ”she said.
Goulet was also critical of attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims in France. A recent Arab News poll with YouGov showed that 64% of French people have a negative impression of minority groups.
“I think that’s unfortunately a fact and it’s because of the main political leaders who are riding the wave of populism right now. It’s something that will help them collect votes, ”she added, referring to the presidential elections in France next year.
“We also have the yellow vests (movement) and the street bustle, with conspiracy theories, and everything boils in the same pot to produce something that smells terrible.”
Goulet, who is a member of the Union centrist political party in the French Senate, denigrated the presidential prospects of Eric Zemmour, the right-wing populist who has recently gained ground in the polls.
She said: “I think these things are going to fall apart soon. It was like a small fire. His campaign will collapse. It’s not France, I mean it can’t be France. I mean this guy is a pure populist. He doesn’t have a team and I hope he runs out of money soon and then goes in the trash because he deserves nothing but garbage.
The politician expressed hope that relations between France and Britain – increasingly strained since Brexit and the arrival of Boris Johnson’s government – could improve, but noted that the “misunderstandings” in Anglo-French affairs dated back to the French military leader Napoleon. Bonaparte.
Regarding the final flashpoint – the migration of refugees across the Channel – Goulet said the situation was “unbearable” but stressed that higher levels of social benefits were available for refugees in the UK. United compared to France and other EU countries.
“I know for sure that Britain attracts emigrants because it is easier for them to live there and to get grants and help. So maybe one of the keys is for Britain to be more restrictive when it comes to migrants so that it doesn’t look so appealing – maybe. “