The Macron shakes hands with the PLC Chairman during the Climate Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, November 2022 (Photo: French Embassy)

The French Role in Yemen: Limited Prospects or Strategic Ambition?


Wed, 16-11-2022 05:18 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed (South24) 

It is known that internal politics affect the foreign policy priorities of any country. In the case of France, the tenure of Emanuel Macron which lasted for two presidential terms made a remarkable impact on the international arena, especially in the Middle East. He didn’t miss any event or scene without being involved. The echoes of his presence moved to the French internal life which helped him later in the ballot boxes. The Lebanese capital city of Beirut was one of the gates of his prominence since the explosion that hit its port back in August 2020. This was followed by several visits and initiatives in the Gulf States including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar. Most of Macron’s tours sought the basic strategic issues in the region including counterterrorism, extremism, the Lebanese crisis, the Libyan elections, the Yemeni crisis, Iran’s nuclear file, and others. [1] For the Gulf states, despite the mutual commercial interests and the advanced technologies constantly sold to them by France, Paris does not seem a strong reliable ally regarding the security of the region’s states or building new strategic balances. This is attributed to the decline of the French foreign policy role over the last decades and Paris's greater focus on its domestic policies despite Macron’s efforts to restore its luster. 
As for North Africa’s states, the French relationships, especially with Algeria, vary between apathy or tension. This particularly came in the wake of Paris’s decision to reduce the number of visas to Algerians and Macron’s alleged statements about his country’s colonial history in Algeria. [2] Additionally, there has been a decline in the French impact and its cultural pattern which dominated most of the African states after colonialism. This has been replaced by more expansive alternative options with the information revolution and the spread of technology, especially with France's preoccupation with the issues of identity, political Islamism, and the restrictions against the immigrants who come from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and others. This is despite Macron’s attempts to reconcile with these countries and to assert his endeavors in solving many of their problems or developing them. However, France’s profile has faded at the level of language. For example, There have been calls to boycott the French language in teaching curricula inside Morocco and use English instead as the latter are deemed to be the language of science, technology, and business. Such calls have stirred wide controversy as French has been used for decades in teaching curricula in universities. [3] There have been similar calls in Algeria and Tunisia. 
The French involvement in Yemen
In March 2011, amid defections from the army and political forces within the Saleh regime to join the so-called “Revolution for Change” in Yemen, France was the first western state which publicly called President Saleh to step down. In an EU meeting in Brussels, the then-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described Saleh’s departure as "unavoidable" [4] while the situation was deteriorating in Yemen. Moreover, Paris supported the Gulf Initiative signed in November 2011 for a political transition process in coordination with the EU and the US. It recognized the legitimacy of the then President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and his government. Furthermore, France along with the US and the UK sponsored Resolution 2216, issued by the UN Security Council in April 2015 which called for resuming dialogue and reaching a comprehensive solution including banning arm supplies, imposing individual sanctions against the Houthis, and respecting human rights. [5] 

Since the outbreak of the Yemeni crisis, there is an ongoing French presence in Yemen even at the level of its commitment towards the humanitarian aid grants in Yemen which reached the level of 8.7 million dollars in 2020 via the international organizations represented in the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as the non-governmental organizations, especially the International Humanitarian Association "CARE". [6] Before that in 2018, Paris intended to hold a conference that would have included states and humanitarian organizations and it was scheduled to be co-chaired by KSA. The conference aimed at making humanitarian initiatives for Yemen. However, many experts questioned the credibility of the call to hold an aid conference while the same country sells weapons to states involved in the Yemen war. However, the level of representation in the conference was reduced due to the battle led by the Arab Coalition at that time towards the city of Hodeidah. The battle was halted by subsequent international pressure with pretexts that included keeping civilians safe and the access of aid ships to the port of Hodeidah. 

Total Company

The most prominent economic link between France and Yemen is “Total”, the biggest oil and gas investment company which was founded over three decades ago. It began searching for oil in 1987 and making commercial explorations in 1995 before engaging in development projects as its actual production has begun. [7] “Total” owns 7 giant companies which manage an LNG production plant in Yemen in the Arabian Sea with a total cost of 4.5 billion dollars. It owns a 28.6% share of the 10th Region of “Messila “ which is the biggest oil field in Yemen with a total production capacity of 70,000 crude oil per day. [8] However, the company’s activities have been suspended since the beginning of the Yemen conflict in 2015 and it decided to withdraw like most oil companies there. 
One of the interesting aspects related to “Total” in Yemen are the accusations related to the corruption deals with former President “Saleh”. In 2014, The Basindawa government accused him of corruption regarding the deal to sell LNG to “Total” and the Korean “KOGAS”. It threatened to prosecute those responsibly. [9] The Good Governance Team of the National Dialogue in 2013 filed a lawsuit against Total and its partners because it targeted an additional amount of the gas project about trillion cubic feet with a total value of 24 billion dollars as well as fabricating the reserve's statistics official documents. [10] 
French journalist and author Romain Molina spoke to “South24 Center" about Total’s involvement in many corruption deals not only in Yemen but in different parts of the world which is not a secret according to him. He said “all that matters for those in Total is financial profit no matter what and by any means necessary”. He added: “They also helped support corrupt military bodies in the Yemeni army during the reign of Ali Saleh by paying them huge amounts of money under the pretext of protection and security reasons, let alone paying bribes to Yemeni officials according to some of our sources”. He went on by saying “we also obtained documents showing that 20% of the oil and gas were given back to Saleh. In France, Saleh and his family are under investigation because they bought many luxurious properties. With which money, may I ask? We can also discuss the threats made by some Total managers to investigative journalists like the late Mohammed Al-Absi. We can also talk about their business with some Yemeni oligarchs like Shaher Abdulhak who acted as a broker for Total in East Africa”. [11] 
It is clear that the Russian-Ukrainian war has motivated “Total” to resume LNG production and export it from Sector18 in the Safer oil area in the north of Marib following more than 7 years of hiatus. This happened especially after the Russian gas pumping to Europe stopped. This is similar to the situation in Shabwa governorate in South Yemen as the PLC Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi revealed talks with the French government regarding re-exporting gas from the Belhaf facility in Shabwa. During a symposium with the former US Ambassador to Yemen, Al-Alimi said: ”Total sets a condition that there should be an agreement about the security issues due to fears related to targeting the facility with ballistic missiles. [12] This strengthens what can be described as Paris’s desire to restore the level of its economic influence in Yemen, especially after its role in Africa has declined due to the presence of other competitors such as China, Russia, Turkey, and others and amid Europe’s need for alternative energy sources to fill the gap caused by Moscow. 

A war party
In 2019, intelligence leaked information issued by the investigative website “Disclose” revealed that “French arms including tanks and laser-guided missile systems sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE are being used in the Yemen war against civilians”. [13] The leaked report was inconvenient for President Emmanuel Macron and his government, which has said that as far as it knows French-made arms sold to Saudi Arabia are used solely for defensive purposes on the border and not within the confrontation front. The French government did not question or deny the authenticity of the documents at the time. 
Later, the accusations motivated some media outlets including the French magazine "Orian 21" [14] to continue the investigation into the matter of weapons and reveal the extent of interests gained by the Big French companies from the war in Yemen with the support of the French state. This includes three major companies, the top of which is Thales Group which provides supplies and munitions to air fighters. This also includes French-British missile manufacturer MBDA, and Dassault Aviation which maintains Mirage 2000 aircraft and has contracts with the UAE. [15] Despite the annual reports delivered by the government to the parliament on the importance of trade with some Middle Eastern countries, the parliament still has its doubts amid the French government’s refusal to disclose the details of the weapons which were already delivered to each foreign country. 
In this regard, Romain Molina said: “The French government doesn't really care about whether it is selling arms to the coalition or any other party so long as it is good for the government, and they probably won't stop because of the good relations they have with countries in the coalition. There is no public interest in the Yemeni matter in France because the public knows very little about the armed conflict in Yemen and the involvement of the French government so there is no real pressure on the government”. 
Visits and warnings 

The September visit by French Ambassador to Yemen, "Jean Marie”, to Hadramout, which is rich in oil and gas, was a remarkable one. The French concerns were clear whether there are indicators that Paris may lose its interests related to the gas and Total's control in Belhaf. Total controls 39% of the Belhaf LNG Facility shares. 

It is important to say that France’s policy in Yemen was influenced by Total’s will. According to Romain, “Alain Juppe tried to speak to Ali Abdullah Saleh on behalf of Total to reduce the army costs they had to pay. France is very worried about the gas resources. You could see that the ambassador, Jean-Marie Safa, made many meetings in the last couple of months with several officials. France also communicated about its come-back to Yemen by funding a project in Mukalla. It’s political; we need gas and Total is still the major shareholder of Yemen LNG”. 
The French visit to Hadramout was not the only one but the US made multiple trips whose pace has increased recently. The latest of them was the visit by the US Ambassador to Yemen Steven H. Fagin which came after the Houthis targeted the port of Dabba in Hadramout and claimed responsibility for the attack. [16] 
According to a statement from the local authority, the US ambassador pointed out that the visit came to seek for enhancing the cooperation to support security, counterterrorism, and the aspects of developments and services in the governorate. [17] Naturally, it was not the first trip by the US ambassador but it was preceded by several visits. Days earlier, a military delegation from the US visited Hadramout that reportedly “discussed security issues related to counterterrorism”. Interestingly, most visits were done without coordination with the PLC or the STC. The latter is the most prominent force in South Yemen. This has stirred feelings of resentment at the political and media levels because the repeated lack of coordination with the strong parties in South Yemen weakens the position of the Yemeni government. This is in spite of some justifications as part of the status of Yemen under Chapter VII. 

There is a sore relationship between the current French Ambassador to Yemen and the STC for personal reasons according to information obtained by "South24 Center". Thus, France and the US are pushed to deal individually in Hadramout and Al-Mahra. Remarkably, these visits came concurrently with calls led by figures affiliated with the Yemeni Islah party including a Member of the Shura Council Salah Batis. They called to deal with the Hadramout affair independently from Aden. Batis hailed Fagin's visit to Mukalla. Stirring such calls would apparently enhance the US and French presence separately from the will of the powerful parties in South Yemen including the PLC itself. Actually, the STC in Hadramout struggles to expel the Islah-affiliated forces from the oil fields in Wadi Hadramout. The tribal and popular protests against these forces have been there for months. However, the STC apparently did not take seriously the dimensions of these hidden strange visits as it has not yet adopted any public position. 
Such an approach by Western countries towards the South Yemeni file regarding exploiting the local contrasts and in light of the weakness in dependence on the stances adopted by the Yemeni government would complicate the STC's efforts to arrange efforts in South Yemen and deviate the local positions away from the desired peace. This would also increase the complexity of the conflict there and give the Houthis pretexts to duplicate their threats and continue their blackmail. 
Economically, the frequent Western trips to Hadramout sought to send reassurance messages to the ships and the oil companies that the foreign presence in the region would ensure preventing any threats against the oil facilities in the east of South Yemen although the Houthis actually attacked three basic ports in Hadramout and Shabwa by using drones in less than two weeks since the end of the Yemeni truce on October 2nd. These attacks were condemned by the states and were described as being "terrorist" in a joint statement that included the UK also. [18] 
Accordingly, this leads us to the conclusion that the Western interests in these two governorates which have rich oil and gas resources in South Yemen aim at securing the West's energy needs in light of the shortage they face due to the Russian-Ukrainian war by their presence in many places in the African Horn and the Arabian Sea coasts. Such approaches seem appropriate currently to preserve the interests of the Western states in Yemen and this is sought by France in any case. 

Farida Ahmed

South24 Center for News and Studies Executive Director


1- What are Macron's Plans Towards the Gulf States? Arabic Newspapers, BBC News.

2- How Does the tense Algerian-French Relationships Affect their Military Cooperation? (

3- Controversy in Morocco Regarding Boycotting "French" in the Education Sector. (

4- New dissidents declare their support to the protesters in Yemen (Reuters)

5- France and Yemen, Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs ( 

6- The same as the previous reference

7- Total Yemen celebrates the 25th anniversary of its presence in Yemen

8- The Yemeni President is discussing with France's Total the adjustment of LNG prices (Reuters)

9- The Yemeni government accuses Saleh of "corruption" in selling gas.(


11- An interview made by the writer with French independent journalist Romain Molina on Nov 12th, 2022. He wrote 7 books and many investigative reports for The New York Times, the Guardian, BBC, CNN, and JOSIMAR. He is the author of "Yemen.. the Wars for Good Deal" which was published in France on Nov 14th.

12- Oil and Gas Enter the Conflict Line in Yemen. (South24 Center)

13- French-made tanks and howitzer canons used in Yemeni war: Disclose (Reuters)

14- Armement. Guerre au Yémen « made in France » - Ariane Lavrilleux (

15- Armement. Guerre au Yémen « made in France » - Ariane Lavrilleux (


16- The Houthis declared responsibility for the attack which targeted the port of Al-Dabba in Hadramout.


17- The Governor of Hadramout meets with the Ambassador of... - Local Authority - Hadramout (Facebook)


18- Joint American, French, and British statement regarding the Houthi attacks on the ports of south Yemen (Twitter)

FranceSouth YemenHadramoutMahraShabwaSTCUSSouthern ports