Abu Dhabi: While the UAE and France share strong bilateral relations in a number of key areas, their partnership in the cultural sphere is especially notable.
The most obvious manifestation of this cooperation is the Louvre Abu Dhabi which opened in 2017.
The iconic museum in the UAE capital is the result of a 2007 intergovernmental agreement between the UAE and France, valued at more than $1 billion (Dh4 billion). The agreement loaned the Louvre name to Abu Dhabi for 30 years and six months, as well as artworks from 13 French institutions for a decade, as well as temporary exhibitions for 15 years.
The Saadiyat Island facility with its famous dome was designed by award-winning French architect, Jean Nouvel, who incorporated the feel of a walled Arabian town into the museum’s multi-building structure, and the sense of a palm frond roof into the museum’s 180-metre dome.
The opening of the museum five years ago celebrated this French-Emirati pact, and saw the presence of French and Emirati leaders French President Emmanuel Macron. In an impassioned speech, French President Emmanuel Macron said the landmark museum was a “universal message calling for a dialogue between civilisations”.
Since then, Louvre Abu Dhabi has hosted multiple temporary exhibitions curated by French experts, with a number of French museums and heritage establishments – including the Louvre Museum and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris – loaning artworks. It is said to be the first international museum in the Arab world, and also represents one of France’s largest cultural projects abroad.
Honouring Emirati contributions
In 2017, the Louvre Museum in Paris inaugurated the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Hall in honour of the UAE’s founding father. The centre highlights the UAE leader’s achievements, and his rich legacy of uniting peoples of the world. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed visited the hall in 2018, highlighting how both the UAE and France believe in the important role played by culture towards supporting development and peace.
The UAE also supported the restoration of the Imperial Theatre at the Château of Fontainebleau near Paris with a contribution of 10 million Euros (more than Dh37 million). The chateau is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its theatre was designed between 1853 and 1856 for the use of the French royal family. The facility was then closed for over a century, before restoration works allowed for its reopening in 2019. Recognising these contributions, the theatre was renamed as the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theatre, honouring the UAE’s second president.
Together, the UAE and France have also taken a leading role in globally safeguarding culture. An international fund to protect heritage in situations of armed conflict – the International Alliance for Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) – was set by the two nations, in collaboration with UNESCO, up after Abu Dhabi hosted the International Conference on Safeguarding Culture and Heritage in December 2016.
At present, ALIPH is working on preservation projects in 28 countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chile and Ethiopia. It took initiative to protect key cultural sites in Beirut after the 2020 port explosion, and is also preserving many houses of worship in Iraq. Governments have also pledged more than Dh615 million towards heritage preservation efforts over two cycles, with the second meet in 2022 raising significantly more than the inaugural 2017 meet.
French language initiatives
The two nations have highlighted their partnership by celebrating the Year of Emirati-French Cultural Cooperation Year in 2018-2019. As part of this occasion, the UAE set up a French-language radio that broadcasts programmes three times a week, and also became an associate member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie. The organisation represents countries and regions where French is a customary language, where a significant proportion of the population are French speakers, or where there is a notable affiliation with French culture.
The UAE earlier contributed 5 million Euros (more than Dh18.5 million) to support the Arab World Institute in Paris in 2017. The institute was first set up in 1980 by France, in collaboration with 18 Arab countries, to research and disseminate information about the Arab world and its cultural and spiritual values.