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Cyber factor in France Middle Eastern policy

29 Jan 2024

Cyber factor in France Middle Eastern policy

29 Jan 2024

Over the past two decades, France has managed to build up a strong and balanced cybersecurity system, which is confirmed by researchers from leading international research centers that specialize in various aspects of digitalization and security.

Thus, experts from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) consider France to be among the leading powers when it comes to effectively responding to threats from cyberspace. According to the latest ITU measurements, France ranks 9th in the global cybersecurity ranking and 5th among European countries.[1] The majority of its system cybersecurity components are described as being “close to ideal.”[2] In a similar way, Paris’s standing in the digital space is evaluated by specialists from the Harvard Kennedy School, ranking France among the top ten global leaders in terms of readiness to respond to digital challenges.[3]

It should be noted that experts pay special attention to the “proactive” approach of the Elysee Palace to the development of international cooperation in the field of digital security. Today, France strives not only to fully participate in the construction of a regional cybersecurity system in the Middle East but also to create full-fledged “digital brands” (including the security sector), which is reflected in the foreign policy course of Paris.

It would be interesting to examine which aspects of digital security France prioritizes when building a dialogue with the states of the Middle East and North Africa and what “growth points” the Elysee Palace anticipates in the near future in the region.

France-Arab World: characteristics of digital cooperation

As part of its current Middle East policy strategy, France accords significant priority to the development of relations with Arab states.

Egypt can be considered one of France’s key regional partners in the region. Paris and Cairo have been dynamically developing bilateral ties since 2019, when the first package of agreements on the joint development of global digital infrastructure and cooperation in the field of high technologies was signed at the summit.[4] Subsequently, the parties expanded their interaction by involving large French cyber firms in the dialogue format.[5]

Parallel to this, Paris and Cairo have relied on developing partnerships between law enforcement agencies and special services. Thus, it came to light in 2022 that France had transferred to Egypt a number of advanced technological solutions used for cyberspace monitoring.[6] This decision had a positive impact on the atmosphere of bilateral relations with Egypt, even though it was viewed by some with ambiguity by Paris’s allies in Europe and in the Middle East.

Ties are also actively developing with Morocco, with which France has been implementing agreements on joint counteraction to the threat from the digital space since 2013 (on behalf of the Agence Nationale de la Sécurité des Systèmes d’Information),[7] as well as with Jordan, where specialized interaction is carried out both in bilateral format[8] and through NATO structures.[9]

The attempts of the Elysee Palace to resume talks with Algeria, with whom France continues to have strained relations because of the “common colonial past” factor, are traced. For instance, France and Algeria signed 12 cooperation agreements in 2022 as part of the “reset course,” several of which had an impact on the area of digital security.[10] At the same time, the interaction between the two countries is expanding very carefully, and compared to other Arab partners of Paris, the extent of their interaction in the field of digital security is far smaller.

Separately, this study will delve into the format of Paris’s “digital dialogue” with key regional organizations: the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Despite the fact that the development of multilateral dialogue for bolstering international security and raising the level of trust in the digital space is designated as one of the priorities in the National Digital Security Strategy (2015)[11] and France’s International Digital Strategy (2017),[12] two of the key strategic documents of France, there is little dialogue with regional associations. So, for instance, in the case of LAS, interaction lies primarily in the field of the International Counter Ransomware Initiative, which was launched at the initiative of the United States and is aimed at combating organized cybercrime.[13] At the same time, the Elysee Palace has not yet proposed independent projects in the field of digital security, which are the result of cooperation between the Arab League and France.

The dialogue with the GCC is progressing somewhat more effectively since France is implementing some of its elements of cooperation through EU structures. In particular, Paris was one of the initiators of the strategic partnership project with the GCC on a wide range of security issues, which was launched in 2022.[14] At the same time, the current initiatives of Paris are far less effective than American and Chinese proposals of a similar nature because of France’s very limited (in comparison with the U.S. and China) involvement in the development of the GCC’s digital landscape during President Francois Hollande’s tenure (2012-2017) when the basis of the Arab countries’ current cyber defense system was established. In addition, engagement with GCC members has been slowed in part by unresolved differences on other defense issues—notably a feature of the strategic dialogue with Kuwait.[15]

In general, France’s approach to developing relations with the Arab world in the field of digital security is not yet characterized by a systematic approach; contacts with Arab countries are implemented mainly in a bilateral format, while the dialogue strategy “State-regional organization”) has not yet become widespread. Instead, the Elysee Palace places greater emphasis on cooperation under the auspices of the EU.

However, Paris, in general, is considering the possibility of a gradual transition to direct interaction with regional organizations (LAS and the GCC) and is taking into account the positive experience previously demonstrated by China[16] and India.[17] In this context, one of France’s promising steps could be to deepen cooperation with the Council of Ministers for Cybersecurity, the creation of which the Arab League announced in the second half of 2023.[18]

France-non-Arab states: specifics of digital dialogue

Despite the fact that Arab countries occupy a significant part of the “geopolitical map” of the Middle East, the Arab world is not the only pole of security in the region. For this reason, when building its Middle East policy (including in relation to cyberspace), Paris also indirectly takes into account the interests of other major actors: Türkiye, Iran and Israel.

The most sensitive area of the Elysee Palace’s attention remains the building of comprehensive interaction with Türkiye. Considering that Ankara aspires to play the role of one of the permanent guarantors of security in the Middle East, the search for ways of comprehensive interaction is a key element in Paris’s active involvement in regional affairs.

In recent years, the two countries have had a lot in common in the realm of cyberspace; in particular, there is a growing convergence of priorities in the fight against cyberterrorism and organized cybercrime (including shutting down channels of illicit cryptocurrency trafficking), as well as the gradual emergence of similar viewpoints regarding the structure of developing a collective system of digital security in the Middle East and North Africa. As a result, French politicians are increasingly emphasizing the importance of a “comprehensive reset” of bilateral relations and moving them into an open cooperation format.[19]

The success of negotiations between France and Qatar, Türkiye’s key ally in the region, to finalize a strategic partnership that includes cybersecurity is a tacit indication of the improvement in the “negotiating climate” between Paris and Ankara.[20]

At the same time, there has not yet been a full-fledged rapprochement between France and Türkiye on issues pertaining to the protection of digital space. Paris and Ankara interact mainly within collective formats (for example, the development of collective cyber defense measures within NATO), while bilateral contacts remain sporadic in nature.

Also, Iran is completely outside the purview of France’s core interaction with the states of the Middle East, which is due to the specifics of interaction between EU members and Tehran after the collapse of the “nuclear deal” in 2018. At the moment, Paris does not have core contacts with Tehran, although it demonstrates its readiness to return to the development of cooperation if the “key negotiation barrier” is eliminated (i.e., a more stringent framework for the implementation of the Iranian nuclear program, which over time is causing increasing concern among the European community[21]). In turn, in Tehran, this position is perceived with a fair amount of skepticism.[22]

The rhetoric of high-ranking French officials, particularly President Emmanuel Macron, accusing the Islamic Republic of destabilizing the regional situation and implying that Iran may be supporting Hamas’ digital actions, further undermines the notion of “Détente” in relations with Tehran.[23]

On the other hand, the confrontation between Paris and Tehran in cyberspace does not go beyond the scope of diplomatic politeness. This position is perceived positively by Iran, particularly against the backdrop of attempts by other external players (in particular, the United States), according to the Iranians, to use the digital factor to carry out “shock actions”, which lead to the escalation of tension in the Middle East and only complicate the regional “cyber détente.”[24]

The dialogue between France and Israel is organized in a specific way. On the one hand, both countries are interested in establishing sustainable strategic ties in the field of cybersecurity, whether through Israel-NATO or in a bilateral setting, in order to successfully preserve regional stability. On the other hand, there was a noticeable cooling of relations between France and Israel following the “spy scandal” involving Israeli specialized software, which led to the curtailment of certain bilateral projects.[25] As a result, relations between the two countries in cyberspace are still in a state of “cold peace” and have not yet shown a significant trend toward deeper ties.

Private business: the key to all doors?

Involving French private companies providing digital security services in the further development of the digital landscape of the Middle East is one of the unstated foreign policy priorities for the Elysee Palace. The focus on public-private partnerships is partly due to the fact that European technology businesses have a strong positive reputation in the region, and the so-called “French school” of computer security is in great demand.

With revenue from the commercial digital security market in the Middle East expected to reach $2.3 billion by 2026 and continue to grow,[26] France is seeking to become a stakeholder in a dynamic market: French digital businesses are already occupying a niche in at least 11 countries of the Middle East (Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, etc.).[27] In some cases, private companies act as the “locomotive” of bilateral political dialogue and serve as direct conductors of the foreign policy interests of France (Egypt). [28]

Paris considers the Gulf region (primarily the UAE and Saudi Arabia), where the most obvious demand for technological innovation has formed, as a priority area for growth. At the same time, it is important to remember that the private cybersecurity segment in the GCC countries is characterized by a high level of competition. In addition, American, Chinese and Indian companies already occupied advanced niches, which Paris will probably have to overcome in the initial stages of its expansion.


As far as we can see, in the Middle East, France seeks to make maximum use of the existing potential in the field of digital security, combining the intensification of interstate cooperation with increasing the role of the private sector.

Despite the fact that Paris’s efforts are somewhat overshadowed by those of the U.S. and China, two of the world’s most powerful nations, there are certain qualitative changes in the Elysee Palace’s policy compared to the early 2010s. Additionally, France strives to build a balanced system of collective cybersecurity within the Middle East, supporting (though not consistently) the relevant initiatives of regional actors.

Of course, the Paris approach is not without its shortcomings. We are primarily talking about the relatively small number of Middle Eastern partner states in the field of cybersecurity as well as the presence of “blank spots” (Iran), as a result of the peculiarities of the regional system of relations. However, when compared to most other European countries, France’s efforts appear to be fairly comprehensive. Paris will likely continue to gradually increase specialized interaction to the level of “state-regional organization” dialogue but not abandon the other forms of dialogue, such as collaboration through NATO and the EU.


[1] Taking into account the inclusion of the UK indicators in the pan-European ranking. See “Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) 2020,” ITU Publications, 2021, (Date accessed: January 22, 2024).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “National Cyber Power Index 2022,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard Kennedy School), 2022, (Date accessed: January 22, 2024).

[4] “Egypt and France to cooperate on key IT initiatives,” Sme10x, September 3, 2019, (Date accessed: January 22, 2024).

[5] “Egypt looks forward to boosting cooperation with French companies: Sisi,” Ahram Online, December 22, 2022, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

[6] “France under EU pressure for surveillance sales to Egypt,” EU Observer, February 9, 2022, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

[7] “Security of Information Systems Cooperation: France and Morocco sign cooperation agreement,” ANSSI, May 27, 2013, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

[8] “Jordan and France aim to enhance cooperation in security and police fields to strengthen their strategic partnership,” BNN, May 17, 2017, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

[9] “NATO supports Jordan’s national cyber defence strategy,” NATO, July 19, 2017, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

[10] “Algeria-France: 12 cooperation agreements signed in various sectors,” Nova.News, October 12, 2022, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

[11] “National Digital Security Strategy,” Agence Nationale de la Sécurité des Systèmes d’Information, October 16, 2015, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

[12] “France’s International Digital Strategy,” Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, December 15, 2017, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

[13] “Ransomware: 40 countries make commitment to no longer pay ransoms,” InCyber News, November 2, 2023, (Date accessed: January 22, 2024).

[14] “Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council. A Strategic Partnership with the Gulf,”  European Commission, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, May 18, 2022, (Date accessed January 23, 2024).

[15] “Kuwait: Defense relations with France in trouble,” Tactical Report, August 2, 2023, (Date accessed: January 22, 2024).

[16] See “China-League of Arab States Cooperation Initiative on Data Security,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, March 29, 2021, (Date accessed: January 22, .2024).

[17] “India, Arab League vow to deepen cooperation in counter terrorism,” The Hindu, January 13, 2021, (Date accessed: January 22, 2024).

[18] “Arab League announces establishment of Council of Ministers for Cybersecurity,” Arab News, September 11, 2023, ( Date accessed: January 22, 2024).

[19] “France’s Macron seeks to improve ties with Türkiye,” Anadolu Ajansi, June 1, 2023, (Date accessed:  January 20, 2024).

[20] “After Qatar talks, France sees chance to develop defence partnership,” Reuters, July 25, 2023, (Date accessed: January 20, 2024).

[21] “France: World Back To ‘Square One’ On Iran’s Nuclear Containment,” Iran International, December 31, 2023, (Date accessed: January 21, 2024).

[22] “Iran Says Reviving Nuclear Deal ‘Useless’,” VOA News, December 23, 2023, (Date accessed: January 21, 2024).

[23] “Macron hints at Iran’s involvement in Hamas attacks,” Politico, October 10, 2023, (Date accessed: January 22, 2024).

[24] “Iran fuel supplies cut by US, Israel ‘cyber attack’, oil minister says,” France 24, December 18, 2023, (Date accessed: January 21, 2024).

[25] “Israel said trying to mend France ties strained over reported NSO phone hack,” The Times of Israel, October 21, 2021, (Date accessed: January 21, 2024).

[26] “French technology companies eye expansion in Middle East to tap growing security market,” The National, January 19, 2022, (Date accessed: January 21, 2024).

[27] Calculation based on analysis of open data.

[28] “Egypt looks forward to boosting cooperation with French companies: Sisi,” Ahram Online, December 22, 2022, (Date accessed: January 23, 2024).

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