Why Is France Selling Out Its Culture for Cash?
France teeters on the edge of financial bankruptcy. To bring some money into the nation’s coffers, French authorities sometimes compromise their principles, jeopardizing the prestige and reputation of hallowed French institutions.
This is exactly what France has done — not once, but twice — by aligning itself with the United Arab Emirates, and allowing the Gulf state to open the Abu Dhabi Sorbonne in 2006, and the Abu Dhabi Louvre in November 2017.
The reputation of these institutions — the Sorbonne and the Louvre — is firmly established, and conveys a sense of legitimacy to everything affiliated with them.
After the first Gulf War and other events, the UAE came to believe that oil, money, and arms were not enough to protect it from the existential dangers that hovered around it. The regime wanted to stand as an international beacon of intellectual and cultural prestige, so the emirs sought ways to conquer international public opinion — beyond the spheres of commerce and the trade of arms and oil.
There they stood: the Emirates, rich in billions, and France, short on cash, particularly for financing and maintaining educational and cultural installations. The UAE offered to give money in order to co-opt some of France’s most powerful symbols.
The deal might have been fair if the image of both French institutions didn’t suffer from their installation in the sands of the Emirates.
The Abu Dhabi Sorbonne was soon bogged down in controversy connected to ideological censorship, capped with the arrest of a professor connected to the institution.
At the Abu Dhabi Louvre, culture, and particularly geography, fell hostage to UAE political considerations. In most Arab countries, Israel has been wiped out of regional maps, replaced by an imaginary Palestine. And that’s what happened at the UAE’s Louvre.
More surprisingly, due to the diplomatic quarrel with Qatar, that country simply disappeared from the map in the children’s museum of the Louvre altogether.
A map from the UAE museum. Photo: provided.
It must be noted that the UAE claimed that this was a commissioning error. The map has since been replaced.
“Tomorrow everything will be possible,” announced one of the panels displayed at the Abu Dhabi Louvre’s inauguration.
Would it simply be possible for the institutions to which France lent its name, to show respect for geography and the internationally recognized names and borders of countries?
Philippe Karsenty is a French elected official.