Saudi Arabia – Canada international relations 2018

Written by  //  October 10, 2018  //  Canada, Rights & Social justice, Saudi Arabia  //  No comments

Saudi Arabia-Canada spat: What we know so far

10 October
‘A serious overreaction’: Ex-Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia breaks silence on tweet-fuelled clash
Dennis Horak criticizes Canada’s diplomatic strategy in Saudi Arabia
“Whether we like what they are doing or not is not really the issue. If you want these changes to happen, you have to have your voice heard … you have to engage them. And we didn’t do that.”
(CBC) A single tweet incensed the Kingdom. Urging the immediate release of jailed women’s rights activists, it was written by Global Affairs Canada. Then, as has become the practice, Horak says, it was translated by the Canadian embassy in Riyadh into Arabic and tweeted into infamy.
The Saudi response was swift and furious. The act of calling for an “immediate release” seems to be the language that set them off.
Horak says within six hours of the tweet he was barred from returning to the country. The Saudi ambassador to Canada was recalled, new trade stopped, and orders given to withdraw Saudi investment in Canada.
That might have been enough, but the retribution continued. A total of 8,300 Saudi post-secondary students were told to pull out of Canada. Flights to Canada by the Saudi-owned airline were cancelled.
“It was a very big surprise. I get that they were upset about the tweet, but to react the way they did, it was a serious overreaction,” Horak says.
At the UN in September, during an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir accused Canada of treating the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) like a banana republic. “You can talk to us about human rights anytime you want, we’d be happy to have that conversation like we do with all our allies, but lecturing us? No way. Not going to happen.”

28 August
Saudi medical trainees allowed to stay in Canada, for now
The reprieve for medical trainees does not include the 8,000 or more Saudi university students who are enrolled in other programs across Canada. They are not being permitted to continue their studies at Canadian universities.
More than 1,000 medical trainees from Saudi Arabia have been told they can stay in their Canadian positions for a while longer, bringing relief to teaching hospitals and universities that have come to depend on them.
The Saudi medical residents and fellows received news from Saudi authorities Monday that they would be “allowed to continue in their present training programs until such time as an alternative assignment could be arranged,” Dr. Andrew Padmos, chief executive of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, said Tuesday morning.
Saudi authorities did not give the medical trainees a specific deadline by which they have to leave Canada, but it appears they will be allowed to wrap up residencies and fellowships, said Paul-Emil Cloutier, president and chief executive of HealthCareCAN, which represents Canadian hospitals.
Some medical trainees have already left the country, Cloutier said, leaving hospitals scrambling to try to bring them back or fill the empty spots.

17 August
Those finger-wagging know-it-alls who are sticking up for the Saudis
Stephen Maher: The foreign policy establishment seems to think we shouldn’t mess with the Saudis because there’s money on the table. It’s painful to watch
(Maclean’s) Badawi’s lawyer, former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, who has spent decades advocating for political prisoners around the world—including Jacobo Timerman, Nathan Sharansky and Nelson Mandela—thinks Trudeau’s critics should leave this file alone.
“Partisan politics should not intrude itself when you’re dealing with the fate of political prisoners, because you always have to keep the welfare of political prisoners foremost in your mind. And that should be a matter of common cause, because the appearance of being divided on a matter of principle, what you’re doing is undermining the political prisoner themself and that’s something you shouldn’t do.”

16 August
The ethics of John Baird’s Saudi intervention
By Charlie Angus
(The Star Opinion) The idea that a former foreign affairs minister could openly attack Canada’s human rights efforts in Saudi Arabia was shocking enough. The fact he further called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fly immediately to Riyadh to apologize to Saudi leadership seemed even worse.
But it was his appearance on the regime’s state network that made him seem like a willing propagandist. It was offensive to people from across the Canadian political spectrum.
At issue is the fact John Baird’s comments were cloaked in the gravitas of his former office. Nearly all the coverage treated him as an expert on international diplomacy, rather than as a paid adviser to Barrick.
Imagine if Baird had begun his statement with a disclaimer: “I am speaking as a paid representative of Barrick, who has a huge joint venture with a Saudi state mining company.”
What would the response of Canadians have been in that case? Most, I assume would have rolled their eyes and written his comments off as naked self interest.

11-14 August
Students, doctors and patients: The real victims of the Saudi-Canada diplomatic spat
(The Independent UK) “Many of the [Canada-based] trainees are fairly senior, doing fellowships, getting subspecialty experience,” says Salvatore Spadafora, a vice dean with the University of Toronto’s medical school, where 216 students are affected.
“You just know they’re going to go back and do so many great things for their country, and that potential loss is unfortunate,” he says.
(Globe & Mail) “We continue to engage diplomatically, but as I’ve said, Canada will always be very clear on standing up for human rights,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said when asked about the ongoing diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia. Canadian hospitals are scrambling as Saudi medical students have begun withdrawing from their duties ahead of an August 31 deadline, under orders from Riyadh. How did the relationship between the two countries worsen to this point? Get caught up at Saudi Arabia-Canada spat: What we know so far

Is Saudi Arabia Really So Angry at Canada Over a Tweet?
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is attempting to transform his country. The West shouldn’t undermine him.
By Ali Shihabi, founder of the Arabia Foundation think tank.
(NYT) This situation must be understood in the context of Saudi and Islamic culture. Any Arab leader, particularly a young one who has recently assumed power in a traditional and mostly tribal society, has to carefully maintain his and his country’s stature and prestige, what classical Muslim scholars called hayba. This refers to the awe and respect that a ruler and his state must command in order to maintain order and stability without having to resort to excessive coercion, and without which there is no basis for legitimate rule.
This means that Prince Mohammed cannot allow himself or his country to be publicly lectured by Western leaders — especially in his own language.

Compare and contrast the tone of these two reports: (Al Arabiya) Former Canadian FM urges Trudeau to travel to Riyadh to defuse tension
(The National Post) ‘This has not been a good hour for Canada’: John Baird slams Trudeau government on Saudi state TV does mention that “Baird now works at a series of consultancy roles, including a position on the advisory board for Barrick, a major mining firm with interests in Saudi Arabia. The company owns a 50-per-cent stake of Jabal Sayid, a copper mine that began production in 2016.”

‘We don’t have a single friend’: Canada’s Saudi spat reveals country is alone
As Saudi officials lashed out at Canada, the US remained on the sidelines, signaling a blatant shift in the relationship
(The Guardian) While some in Canada had been disappointed to see the UK and Europe opt to publicly stay out of the diplomatic spat, Juneau described it as unsurprising. “When Saudi Arabia had comparable fights with Sweden and Germany in recent years, did Canada go out of its way to side with Sweden and Germany? No, not at all,” he said. “We stayed quiet because we had nothing to gain from getting involved. So on the European side, the calculation is the same.”
Canada’s lonely stand for women’s rights in the kingdom did earn the support of some around the world; this week saw the Guardian and the New York Times publish editorials urging Europe and the US to stand with Canada. So did the Washington Post, going one step further by publishing their editorial in Arabic.

10 August
What Canada should do about Saudi Arabia
By Irwin Cotler, international legal counsel to Raif Badawi and Ensaf Hadar. He is a former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada.
(Globe & Mail) “First, as both the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister put it, Canada “will always speak up for human rights … for women’s rights … that is not going to change,” while adding an olive branch recognizing Saudi Arabia’s importance in international affairs and the progress it has made in human rights.
Second, Canada should engage and encourage the Saudi 2030 Vision and offer to work co-operatively with the Saudis on economic, social and political advancement.
Third, Canada should anchor its human-rights diplomacy in the very international protocols that the Saudis have themselves signed onto, including the mandate of the UN Human Rights Council to “promote and protect international human rights obligations.” In other words, this is not asking Saudi Arabia to adopt Canadian values, but to sign onto, and act upon, the very international human rights obligations that Saudi Arabia has assumed, be it the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Arab Charter of Human Rights.
Finally, Canada needs to engage and exercise global leadership in combatting global authoritarianism, and lead the struggle for international democratic renewal. As the Prague Appeal for Democratic Renewal states, “Liberal democracy is under threat, and all those who cherish it must come to its defence.”

The Saudi storm that blew over
Events this week echo those in 2015, when Sweden spoke out against Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Years later, as David Crouch recounts, the damage is but a distant memory.
(Open Canada) Saudi Arabia is persecuting free speech activists. An outspoken female foreign minister talks tough on human rights. A diplomatic rift begins with a tweet. Big weapons deals and wider trade relations are at stake.
This is not Canada today, but Sweden in 2015, when criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record infuriated Arab leaders, divided Swedish politics and sent a shiver through the business community, which feared damage to Sweden’s reputation and loss of a lucrative market.
Three years on, however, Sweden’s spat with the Saudi kingdom seems like a distant memory. Although the details of what happened remain cloudy, the situation was resolved within three weeks and diplomatic relations settled down soon after.
“There was a big fuss at the time but things quite quickly went back to normal,” said Anna Sundström in an interview with OpenCanada this week. Sundström is secretary general of the Olof Palme International Center, a Swedish international development agency close to the ruling Social Democratic Party.
“This is the way that Saudi Arabia acts. The current situation with Canada shows that this is their normal procedure — to make a big fuss and turn things upside down. But they also value relationships with other countries, they have something to win from normalization.”
‘Canada is the world’s worst oppressor of women’: Saudi Arabia’s bizarre propaganda campaign
(National Post) Within hours of Saudi Arabia expelling Canada’s ambassador, the country’s broadcasters and pro-government social media accounts ramped into high gear digging up dirt on its newest enemy.
A recurring theme of Saudi attacks against Canada is “those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” an expression that is roughly the same in both English and Arabic.
For this argument to hold up, though, it has placed Saudi propagandists in the uncomfortable position of having to prove that Canada is a pariah state of oppression, death and misery.
Below, a quick summary on how they did.

9 August
Canada, a casualty in the campaign for new Saudi nationalism
As Gregg Carlstrom reports from the Middle East, the dispute not only sends a message to allies and trade partners, but fuels support for a new Saudi identity.
(Open Canada) On Aug. 2 the foreign minister tweeted she was “very alarmed” by the arrest of Samar Badawi, a Saudi women’s rights activist and the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi. “We continue to strongly call for [their] release,” she added.
That was it, a statement of concern, a staple of diplomacy in a liberal democracy. But for Saudi Arabia this was “overt and blatant interference” in its internal affairs. The kingdom responded with shocking fury. It recalled its ambassador from Ottawa, expelled the Canadian envoy in Riyadh, and froze bilateral trade and investment.
Then it set about punishing its own citizens. At least 8,000 Saudis study in Canada on government-funded scholarships. No longer: Riyadh froze the money and ordered the students home. The loss of tuition will hurt Canadian universities, but not deeply. It will have a more serious impact on the young students. Though the kingdom promised to “transfer” them to other countries, it is unclear how that will work, especially weeks before the fall term is set to begin. Riyadh has also told an unknown number of Saudis receiving medical treatment in Canada to leave the country.
Canada’s criticism, like that of many other Western countries, certainly smacks of hypocrisy. If it was serious about Saudi’s human rights record, it would stop selling weapons to the kingdom. The hypocrisy, though, works in Saudi Arabia’s favour. This is a serious spat over purely symbolic criticism — and it shows no signs of abating. …
Thousands of Saudi social media accounts were part of what could only be a coordinated campaign, posting identical messages on Twitter that bashed Canada for its treatment of Indigenous people, its record on women’s rights, even its bestiality laws. Al Arabiya, a Saudi-funded satellite channel based in Dubai, aired a segment on “prisoners of conscience” in Canadian jails. One of them, the late Ernst Zündel, was a Holocaust denier. Another, the author and academic Jordan Peterson, is not actually in prison.
But the Twitter mobs and the propaganda on state media also serve a purpose for the crown prince. His agenda is not only economic: he aims to reshape Saudi society. Women are now permitted to drive after he lifted a decades-old ban. Young Saudis flock to cinemas and concerts, also long forbidden. These scenes would have been unthinkable a few years ago. They are also unpopular with a religious establishment that once held great power. The clerics, afraid they too might be arrested, have so far kept quiet. To keep them quiet, MbS hopes to dilute the kingdom’s traditionally conservative religious identity, replacing it with a new Saudi nationalism. Wars and diplomatic feuds help him rally his subjects.

The Hajj getting complicated for Canadian Muslim pilgrims
(RCI) The hajj is becoming more complicated for Canadian Muslims setting out on the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Direct flights on the kingdom’s national carrier, Saudia, between Toronto and Jeddah, as well as the route from Toronto to Riyadh, will be suspended beginning on August 13th.
The Hajj takes place this year from August 19 to 24.

Saudi Arabia Dials Up the Crazy, Calls Jordan Peterson a Political Prisoner
Riyadh’s bizarre diplomatic feud with Canada keeps getting stranger.
(Vanity Fair)  As it crucified a convicted murderer in Mecca on Wednesday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was also busy crucifying Canada’s human-rights record—including making the outlandish claim that Canadian author and Internet celebrity Jordan Peterson had been made a political prisoner by Justin Trudeau’s government. (Peterson, as far as anyone knows, has never been arrested, although his self-help guide received a rather harsh review in The New York Review of Books.) The bizarre feud began Sunday, when Ottawa condemned Riyadh’s arrests of several political activists, including the women’s rights campaigner Samar Badawi, and called for their release.
The Saudis—exhibiting their fondness for disproportionate justice—responded by expelling the Canadian ambassador, banning new trade, halting upcoming Saudi Airlines flights to Canada, ordering the removal of some 12,000 Saudi citizens studying at Canadian universities, and barring all Saudi citizens from receiving health care in Canada.
And still, the saga gets stranger. The Saudi-owned news network Al Arabiya has also joined the fray, posting a series of videos berating Canada’s prison system and focusing attention on its suicide rates. In one particularly perplexing video, the channel challenged the arrests of multiple “prisoners of conscience” in Canada, suggesting that Peterson … is some sort of enemy of the state. It also cites, among other “prisoners of conscience,” the Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel who, during the 80s, was twice convicted under an uncommon law criminalizing speech that could cause harm to the public interest. (Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, recently passed a law equating criticism of the king of crown prince with “terrorism”—a charge that can be punishable by death.)
There are several theories that seek to explain Saudi Arabia’s muscular hypocrisy. One is that it stems from frustration directly aimed at Canada: as University of Ottawa’s Thomas Juneau told CBC Radio, Riyadh was irked when Trudeau reneged on a $15-billion arms deal signed by his predecessor, which the Saudis had expected to strengthen ties with Canada across trade, defense, security, and academia. That didn’t happen, he observed, “mostly because the Liberals really didn’t want to be seen as deepening co-operation with such a brutal dictatorship.” Writing in Al Jazeera, journalist Bill Law suggests another pain point: Badawi’s sister-in-law, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada, giving her the freedom to regularly berate the Saudi regime. …
A diplomatic cold war with Canada seems an unlikely way to win a charm offensive. Then again, this is not the first time that M.B.S.  has displayed an erratic approach to foreign policy. In November 2017, he effectively kidnapped the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri … In the same year, Saudi Arabia removed its ambassador from Germany after a minister made comments interpreted as a criticism of Saudi military action in Yemen. In 2015, it recalled its ambassador to Sweden following criticism of the flogging of Badawi’s brother. Seen in context, Canada looks like just another scapegoat for M.B.S. as he works to unite his subjects in nationalist fervor. (In a press conference Wednesday, Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir tripled down, threatening another wave of retaliatory measures that could limit investment flows with Canada. “Canada knows what it needs to do,” Al-Jubeir said, explaining that there would be no compromise. “We don’t accept interference in our affairs.”)
Perhaps the crown prince is betting potential foreign investors won’t care about Canada when calculating their R.O.I. Certainly it helps that Donald Trump has no love for Justin Trudeau, and is waging a vehemently nationalist, anti-Canadian campaign of his own. “One is hard-pressed to truly understand what officials at the Royal Court are thinking.

Former ambassador to China David Mulroney makes some good points:
The Saudis deliver a sobering lesson: In diplomacy, words do matter
(Globe & Mail) Although the attention paid to precise language in diplomacy can seem excessive, words do matter when one state tries to communicate with another. Insecure regimes, as with insecure people, react badly to highly directive words such as “immediately,” which was the timeline we urged the Saudis to adopt in freeing the detainees. The possibility of a negative reaction increases exponentially when the message is delivered in public. … It didn’t have to go this way. The Chinese government’s recent decision to allow Liu Xia, the wife of Nobel laureate and human-rights advocate Liu Xiaobo, to leave house arrest in Beijing and travel to Germany owes much to the quietly effective diplomacy of Chancellor Angela Merkel. She and her diplomats worked patiently to make this outcome seem a natural outgrowth of their respectful, mutually-beneficial relationship with China

Saudi Arabia halts all medical treatment for citizens in Canada

Putting the spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada in context
The unexpected diplomatic feud between Canada and Saudi Arabia exposes the fragility of the latter’s reform agenda.
By Bill Law
(Al Jazeera) Compared with his other foreign fiascos, the attack on Canada is a mild, risible faux pas. But it is one that reinforces a growing consensus that Mohammed bin Salman is increasingly out of his depth, struggling at home to impose his grandiose transformation of the Saudi economy, Vision 2030, and on the international stage tripping over his feet and beginning to look the fool.
Steven A. Cook: Mohammed bin Salman Is Weak, Weak, Weak
(Foreign Policy) The Saudis really can’t have it every which way: posturing as “reformers,” tossing activists in jail, and then taking umbrage when people dare criticize them for not actually reforming.
The crown prince decided to pick a fight with the wrong country. Not because Canada is powerful and the Saudis are dependent upon them, but rather because Ottawa has taken a stand on the straightforward principle that peaceful dissent is not a crime. In their overreaction, the Saudis have decided to flaunt their own foolishness and feebleness.

Saudi Arabia withdrawing students from Canadian schools, suspending flights
“For Canadian universities, this is a significant hit,” said Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. “Saudi Arabia is the fourth largest contingent of foreign students in this country.”

A tweet, then a trade freeze: latest row shows Saudi Arabia is asserting new rules
Riyadh’s actions against Canada are a signal that any criticism of its domestic policies is unacceptable
The row began with an expression of concern by Canada’s foreign ministry over the arrest of Saudi civil society and women’s rights activists.
In years past, such a public criticism from an ally would have been dealt with behind the kingdom’s famously opaque closed doors.
But as Canada’s envoy heads home, the feeling among diplomats in Riyadh and elsewhere in the Arab world is that Saudi Arabia’s new leadership wants to assert a new set of rules on the regional game.
And the country’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, feels he has the backing to do it.
Projecting strength has become a central concern of the 32-year-old heir to the throne. So has upsetting allies, and starting rows without an apparent follow-up plan.

Canada won’t look the other way on Saudi Arabia. We shouldn’t either.
(WaPost Editorial) Saudi Arabia’s young ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been intolerant of dissent and jailed dozens of critics, including intellectuals, journalists and advocates of women’s right to drive . Most have been thrown in jail for long periods without any semblance of due process. When Ms. Freeland called for the Badawis to be freed, the crown prince answered by expelling Canada’s ambassador and severing trade, travel and student exchange links. The intended message: Other countries should mind their own business, or else.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has largely withdrawn from the role of championing freedom and human rights abroad. The State Department reacted to the latest news with a depressingly tepid statement, urging both Canada and Saudi Arabia to resolve their differences, adding, “We can’t do it for them.” It is great to see Canada holding aloft the human rights banner, even at the cost of damaged ties to Saudi Arabia. But Canada should not have to do this alone. It is the traditional role of the United States to defend universal values everywhere they are trampled upon and to show bullying autocrats they cannot get away with hiding their dirty work behind closed doors.

Saudi Arabia’s bold move has nothing to do with Canada
By Bessma Momani
(Globe & Mail) This is a new, bold Saudi Arabia trying to make its mark on global and regional affairs. Led by the young and very brash Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS), this latest move is yet another red line that is being used to rile up nationalists and assert Saudi dominance. Expelling a Canadian ambassador is in keeping with the moves of a crown prince who allegedly took the Lebanese prime minister hostage, rounded up 200 of the most influential and richest Saudis and detained them until they paid part of their fortune back to the Saudi national accounts, and created a diplomatic firestorm with tiny neighbouring Qatar for not toeing the Saudi line on regional affairs. And this in under a year.

Saudi Arabia to freeze new trade with Canada, recalls ambassador
Ottawa had called for release of jailed civil rights activists Raif and Samar Badawi
(CBC) And the ministry said Saudi Arabia is recalling its ambassador to Canada in a dispute that appears to be over a tweet on Friday from Global Affairs Canada.
“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists,” the Canadian tweet said.
Saudi Arabia Expels Canadian Ambassador
(Wall Street Journal) Move comes after government in Ottawa expresses concern over arrests of civil-society and women’s rights activists in the kingdom

1 August
Saudi Arabia arrests sister of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi
(CBC) Samer has been targeted by Saudi authorities before. She was subject to a travel ban in 2014 and was arrested two years later, Amnesty said in a statement.
Also arrested this week was Nassima al-Sada, another women’s rights activist and an advocate for Saudi’s minority Shia population.
More than a dozen women’s rights activists have been targeted since May in Saudi Arabia. Most campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

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