By Ray Petersen — It’s a long way from the small village of less than a thousand people in the mountainous Pau region of France, to the 1980’s Franco/Omani inspired architecture of the Embassy and residence in Muscat’s diplomatic Quarter, that His Excellency Roland Dubertrand, France’s Ambassador in Muscat, now calls home. But for the widely respected, 55 years young diplomat, this has been his journey so far. The amazing residence by the sea is home to the debonair Frenchman, his beautiful Iranian wife Marjane, and their adopted Omani wadi dog, Zak, who the ambassador jokes is “quite, irreverent, without too many manners, so is really very UN-Omani.”
Maybe he was always destined for diplomacy, who knows? One certainty is that growing up in the sometimes volatile region, bordering on Spain, and the ongoing Basque separatist movement, a young catholic schoolboy would have learned to choose his words wisely. The fact that his first foreign language was actually Spanish, reflects the extent of influence of the region, its politics and culture. Dubertrand however is certain about two aspects of his formative years, first, that a rustic life was not for him, and second that rugby, the only sport played at his school, “was a mystery to me then, and is still a mystery today.”
He is excited about the growing relationship between Oman and France on the linguistic front, with the Omani-French Centre in Muscat reporting increased enrollments every semester as Omanis continue to develop a cultural appreciation of the francophonie, or French way of doing things, for which much of the MENA region has an affinity. He points also to the amazing amount of work his staff, headed by Clement Moutel, the Cultural Attache, puts into developing and maintaining cultural and educational links within the Sultanate.
“I personally enjoy reading. I read a lot, and most of it is historic, though I am intrigued by some ‘heavier’ literature, and have read much of Marguerite Duras’ work. I adore the music of Mozart, and the recent performance of ‘Don Giovanni’ at the Royal Opera House was stunning! I like to dance, but I don’t think I’m all that good,” he said before smiling as he recalled seeing a South American President dancing the sometimes frenetic, but always beautiful Merengue. Commenting later that his dancing was superb, the President responded in mock seriousness, “If I couldn’t merengue, I wouldn’t be President!”
As to Dubertrand’s own education, seeking, maybe not fame or fortune, but driven by his burgeoning interest in both public law, and political science, the high school graduate chose the Bordeaux Institute of Political Sciences as his initial alma mater, graduating with a BA, and then, in 1981 achieved an MA in Public Law from Bordeaux University. Admittance to the elite ‘Grandes Ecoles’ higher education system, followed as a result of his academic achievements, and led to his enrollment in the French National School of Public Administration, where his career choices lay in the national prefecture system, providing
administrative support throughout the republic, or foreign affairs, in the wider service of his country, eventually choosing the latter.
Dubertrand’s respect for other cultures has probably been founded, or at least enhanced by his admiration for the writings of fellow Frenchman Paul Ricoeur, who sought to establish links between behavior, nature, and ancient scriptures, which require a great deal of patience, consideration and respect, not only for what you can see, and know, but what you believe. Maybe this tolerance, and belief in the essential goodness, has allowed Dubertrand to bring his own very individual form of diplomacy to appointments in what may be seen as unstable environments.
Certainly, globally, successive appointments to the Middle East and North African Directorate in Paris, with responsibility for Lebanon and Syria (1986-89), then a two year posting to Nicaragua, at the time of the Sandanista/Contra struggles would have challenged any complacency within the young diplomat. A governmental advisory position followed, and a appointment to Tehran in 1992 offered him a taste of the Middle East, at its most uncertain during the post-Khomeinni era. Accordingly, he explained, “My appointment as the Ambassador to the Dominican Republic was a very different posting, with very much more emphasis on trade and commerce.”
“Of course,” he said, “This is a major part of the embassy’s role here in Oman, to support French companies seeking bi-lateral trade opportunities here, and of course facilitating Omani business investment in France, both of which show positive results. Similarly, in tourism, during the past four years we have seen significant tourism growth here, with over 50,000 French visitors to Oman, while the number of visas issued for Omanis to travel to France, mostly Paris, has almost tripled in the same period.” Again, Dubertrand deflected much of the credit away from himself to his embassy team, and Oman itself. “At the French end, there is an amazingly active Omani Tourist Office, staffed by French speaking Omanis, and look around you. Here we are,” he said, “with 364 sunny days a year, golden sandy beaches, warm blue and green seas, dolphins, forts, and a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. What more could a tourist want?”
A decade of Paris based appointments from the mid-1990’s offered Dubertrand the opportunity to further develop his knowledge and understanding of the MENA region at the diplomatic level, and later inspectorate duties offered him the opportunity for study, and in 2003 he received a Diploma of Higher Studies in Theology and Religion, from the Catholic Institute of Paris. In 2011, his expertise in the Middle East was recognized with his appointment as a governmental advisor, signposting his current appointment, in July 2014, as Ambassador of France in the Sultanate of Oman.
Dubertrand quickly concedes that “While the role of a diplomat can be stressful, even dangerous, Oman is a posting far from that, and of course, the credit for that must go firstly to His Majesty sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has made Oman safe, stable and progressive.” He smiled too though as he continued, “Have you ever met a people more generous, more willing to offer help, or to open their homes to you? The Omani is truly a magnificent example of the peace that is possible, in one of the more volatile regions in the world.”
So what does an ambassador to Oman do, when he is not being an ambassador? “Well, I got married in Oman, to my lovely Marjane,” he said just with that hint of gallantry that other men find infuriating, “so it will always have a special place in our hearts. I run sometimes, I swim at this beautiful beach,” he gestured seawards, “and I love to visit the forts, aflaj, and do things like taking the balcony walk on Jebel Shams.”
Gastronomically, the ambassador admits to a fondness for French food, with a leaning towards the new, lighter, fresher cuisines, and why not? The affection for haute cuisine, reveals the one lingering regret for the Dubertrands in Muscat. “There is no gastronomic French restaurant in Muscat. Not just for ourselves of course, but you would think many people would like to try some of our delicacies. But we do, every year, have an embassy function where we are able to ‘show off’ our national specialties. I always tell our guest not to eat for one day before, and they will not have to eat for one day after,” he laughed.
Dubertrand with humility, concedes that he has been formally recognized for his diplomatic activity not only in France, with the Knight medal of the French Legion of Honor (Légion d’honneur), and the Knight medal of the National Order of Merit (l’Ordre national du Mérite), but also by Morocco, with the Officer medal of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite, and the Dominican Republic’s Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of Duarte, Sanchez and Melia. He is, therefore, no idle blusterer.
This diplomat is, in all manner, nether a dilettante, or dabbler, nor is he a bon vivant, a lover of only the good things in life and wealth. Rolande Dubertrand has, by his manner, humor, and consistency, endeared himself to the Omani commercial, tourism, education and cultural sectors, to the expatriate cultural community with his generosity of spirit, and to the entire Omani diplomatic community with his impeccable integrity. The man who once professed to be armed only with a road map, has most surely discovered, and embraced the knowledge that his diplomatic career is not a job, but a glorious life, a la Jules Verne, a ‘voyage fantastique.’