Bahrain and France share a common determination to protect and preserve cultural heritage, as well as artistic creation. Through archaeological missions launched in 1977, France has actively participated in the rediscovery of Bahrain’s ancient history. It has resulted in a rich cultural cross-fertilisation. The meeting of civilisations actually came to life when the relationship was established in 1842, as the French ship, La Favorite, sent by King Louis-Philippe, arrived in Bahrain during a campaign in the Red Sea. Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, Governor of Bahrain at that time, sent to the emissary of the King of France a welcome message expressing his wishes to become the friend of France.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the French jeweller, Jacques Cartier, came to Bahrain in 1911, seduced by the high-quality pearls of which fame had echoed to Paris. Later, the first French exports, recorded in Bahrain in 1962, and the opening of a French Embassy in 1974, finally laid the foundation for a long-standing relationship with Bahrain, where the common concern for excellence is reflected in all areas, notably in the field of educational and academic cooperation.
Thriving Economic Relations
The economic exchange between Bahrain and France reached USD505 million in 2018, which is a slight decrease compared to 2017 (USD557), but above the levels observed in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. France mostly exports industrial equipment, chemical and pharmaceutical goods to Bahrain, while the majority of Bahraini exports to France are made of refined products.
Around 185 French companies from various sectors are currently operating in the Kingdom, such as banking and finance, industry, retail, design, IT and security. Leading French companies have established their offices in Bahrain, some of them for more than 50 years, and continue to use Manama as their regional headquarters for the Gulf region. Among these are the bank BNP Paribas, the insurance group Axa and Vinci Energies, through its local subsidiary Comsip. Thanks to their historical relationship with some of the most prominent merchant families in the Kingdom, luxury brands in cosmetics, perfumes and jewellery are also acting as ambassadors of the French business presence.
As part of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s visit to the French Republic earlier this year, the Bahraini business delegation accompanying His Majesty signed 12 agreements and Memoranda of Understanding with French companies and institutions. The business segment of the visit included a high-level business lunch, organised by the Economic Development Board and French agency Medef International. It was attended by 150 businessmen from both countries.
For the past few years, prominent French companies have played a significant role in the development of key projects that are a priority for the national economy, like the design of the new airport terminal awarded in 2014 to a consortium that includes Aéroports de Paris (ADP), the production of power generation and water desalination at Al Dur plant, by a consortium that has included Engie since 2008, the supply of engineering and industrial equipment to Alba by Fives Group since 2017, and the renewal of the Gulf Air fleet with the purchase in 2016 of 29 Airbus A320s and A321s.
Beyond these projects, and under the umbrella of the Vision 2030 that aims at strengthening the diversification of the economy, French companies, including SMEs, have expressed a strong interest in the initiatives launched by the Kingdom in the Fintech sector.
French Language and Education
Since 1987, French teaching has been offered at the University of Bahrain, reinforced in 2009 by the integration of the Centre of French Studies in the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Bahrain. The same year, a Royal Decree ranked the French language among priority disciplines, making it the second foreign language after English. This represents an opportunity for Bahrain to participate in the tri-lingual education of new generations and to be part of the circle of the Francophonie community (300 million speakers worldwide). In the meantime, the number of scholarships increases every year, allowing young Bahrainis to discover French language and culture during specially tailored summer camps.
In parallel, the MLF French School of Bahrain (located in Busaiteen) offers high-level teaching programmes and currently accommodates 720 students from kindergarten to French baccalaureate. The school had 120 Bahraini students for this 2018/2019 school year. The Alliance Française is also a large part of the cooperation in the field of education, with 1,500 registrations every year for diplomas certified by the French Ministry of National Education.
During His Majesty’s visit to France, an agreement was signed between the Institut Français de la Mode (French Fashion Institute) and the Bahrain Fashion Incubator, in order to promote academic training in fashion design, which will later be turned into a full-fledged diploma by the University of Bahrain.
During His Majesty’s visit to France, three agreements on secondary and higher education were signed by Bahrain’s Minister of Education and the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Academic cooperation experiences a real accomplishment with the French Arabian Business School (FABS) delivering an ESSEC-MBA. Hosted by the Arabian Gulf University (AGU) since 2011, this diploma was designed by the prestigious French ESSEC Business School. The Aix-Marseille University (AMU) also allows a set of cooperation programmes, particularly with the University of Bahrain, in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration of Bahrain (BIPA) and the ENA – French National School of Administration. It offers a Master’s in public management that was launched in 2016. A doctorate school / research institute in public administration, operated under the aegis of the same AMU, was inaugurated in February 2019. Other projects initiated in 2019, like the creation of a Master’s in law and sports management and a research programme in the field of genetics, are strengthening the scientific and academic exchanges between the two countries.
Scope For Cooperation
During His Majesty’s visit to France, an inter-governmental agreement was signed on four to six-year medical specialisation residencies, to be made accessible to five young doctors every year.
Medical partnership has been, for many years, a very significant field of cooperation. Beside the above-mentioned programme of specialisation, to be offered from this month, a contract was signed in January 2019 between the Ministry of Interior and Greater Paris University Hospitals. Already implemented, it aims at modernising the emergency medical care service of the Kingdom and ambulance management.
Numerous other projects such as judicial studies, preservation of the environment, women and children’s rights and urban planning have been instituted recently as fields for successful cooperation and the embassy is regularly introducing new scenarios in the Bahrain-France relationship for common enrichment.
Culture and Art
During His Majesty’s visit to France an agreement was signed between the President of the Louvre Museum and the President of Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA), HE Shaika Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, on the loan of archaeological items from the Dilmun and Tylos civilisations, for display in the Museum’s Department of Oriental Antiquities.
Franco-Bahraini cultural cooperation has been historically marked by the privileged partnership the French Embassy has developed, over the years, with BACA. France is particularly recognised in the country for its excellence in the fields of cultural engineering and artistic resources. In the field of performing arts, a growing number of events (five to seven French shows per year, mostly musical) have successfully found their place in the cultural and social life of the country. French visual artists have also been regularly honoured, especially since the launch of a partnership between BACA and the Atelier de Sèvres (Paris) in 2016.