Middle East Fact Sheets

Fact Sheet: French Arms Sales

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Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's crown prince, right, and Emmanuel Macron, France's president, Paris 2018 (Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty Images) 

  • France’s weapons sales to Saudi Arabia rose 50 per cent in 2018
  • This was despite senior French government officials government calling for an end to the war in Yemen
  • In May Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to end the conflict in Yemen, calling it a “dirty war”
  • French Armed Forces Minister, Florence Barley also used the phrase “dirty war” to describe the conflict in Yemen
  • An annual report on French arms sales showed that France sold approximately €1 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia
  • The main item sold was patrol boats. A partial naval blockade of ports controlled by the Houthis in Yemen is a tactic used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that has contributed to the humanitarian crisis

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (R) with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) in Paris, 2018 (Photo by Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

  • The French government claims that its arms sales are governed by strict procedures that are in line with international treaties.
  • Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly: “Maintaining economic relations with these countries means keeping a presence in key regions for our security interests and our energy supplies. It is also about fighting terrorism and protecting our nationals on the ground”
  • France is a leading arms exporter, with sales boosted in recent years by overseas contracts for Rafale fighter jets, including to Qatar and India
  • France sells naval vessels, tanks, artillery and munitions to the Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • NGOs have protested France’s involvement with regimes that are complicit in the Yemen offensive
  • Overall French arms exports to the Middle East increased to €4 billion from €3.9 billion in 2018, and form part of an expanding sector of the French economy. Total arms sales rose by 30 per cent to €9.1 billion in 2018, with a significant proportion of the sales going to European customers. France is competing against American arms exports
  • Notable sales to the Middle East included Qatar, which ordered Rafale-fighter jets and helicopters worth €2.4 billion euros.
  • Sales to Egypt plateaued at approximately €270 millions and UAE custom fell significantly