Saudi Arabia withdraws bid to join Francophonie group


Saudi Arabia on Thursday withdrew its application to join the world’s club of French-speaking countries, the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF). The move comes as Riyadh faces pressure over its human rights record.

The organisation, which can be viewed as the French-speaking equivalent of the Commonwealth, was set to decide on the oil-rich nation’s candidacy during a meeting in Armenia on Thursday, but before the 54-strong OIF grouping had time to deliver its verdict, it announced that Saudi Arabia had withdrawn its application.

The move comes as the Gulf state faces intense diplomatic pressure over a series of human rights violations, including its suspected involvement in the recent disappearance of the prominent Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who went missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Over the summer, Saudi Arabia also expelled Canada’s ambassador and froze all bilateral trade and investment with Ottawa after the latter voiced concern for jailed Saudi rights activists.

In its mission statement, the OIF states that “members share more than just a common language. They also share the humanist values promoted by the French language” and that “the French language and its humanist values represent the two cornerstones” on which the OIF is based. The grouping also asks candidates to “translate a real interest in the values defended by la Francophonie”.

When it comes to gender inequality, the death penalty by beheading and other human rights issues, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud’s kingdom is on the list of some of the world’s worst violators.

Although Saudi Arabia was never expected to be admitted as a full member of the OIF, it was seen as a likely contender for an “observer” status, which has no voting rights.