- ‘But Saudi Arabia will not be Switzerland overnight’
RIYADH: While some fail to recognize the leap Saudi Arabia is taking in modernizing and opening up to the world, one member of the Senate of France considers the changes and reforms in the Kingdom to be “tremendous.”
Nathalie Goulet, representing the Orne department in Normandy, told Arab News: “The problem that we face is that a lot of people are not believing in the changes in Saudi Arabia. Of course, it will not be Switzerland overnight.”
Goulet was heading a delegation from the French Senate to the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal) in Riyadh on Feb. 23, where they discussed strategies to combat extremist rhetoric around the world.
“It is a tool, a very interesting and useful tool to track terrorism. Etidal has to be presented to the G20. It could be an international tool to track hate speech and extremism,” she said.
Goulet previously met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Paris before his appointment as the country’s crown prince in June 2016, and said that he was “very impressive and determined.”
She talked to the crown prince about dire issues, such as women’s rights and activists and, to her surprise, he addressed all her questions “very forthrightly.”
She said that he shared his ambitious Vision 2030 plan with her at the time, and that he had now “delivered on the things he was planning to do.”
Goulet also spoke about the dangers of global terrorism, singling out Qatar for backing the Muslim Brotherhood group. “Qatar … has to stop funding the Muslim Brotherhood and France must ban them,” she said, adding that another issue was that some groups misuse the zakat, an Islamic tax and religious obligation, to fund their activities.
“The problem is not with zakat, but with how people use the money for bad purposes,” she said, adding that a mosque in France last year received up to 1 million euros in cash during the month of Ramadan. “We (France) let people from the Muslim Brotherhood collect the money for a madrasa (school) in Mauritania.”
That school was closed by Mauritania, but France allowed the zakat to go through it as a portal to unknowingly fund terrorist activities. “On one hand we send soldiers to fight terrorism in West Africa, on the other hand, we let people collect money for bad purposes. It’s schizophrenic,” said Goulet.
She added that her country was working hard to put an end to such issues.
Goulet, who has been working on several areas related to terrorism and money laundering in the French Parliament, praised Saudi Arabia’s stance on terrorism and its efforts to curb it.
She referred to the Mohammed bin Naif Counseling and Care Center as a model for rehabilitating previous terrorists.
While the misconceptions spreading about Saudi Arabia will not hinder the country’s progress, it is still an issue, she added. “When you come in with an agenda, it’s a serious issue for the country and for all the region. We have to come here without prejudgments,” Goulet said.