Saudi Arabia and Canada are in the middle of a full-on diplomatic crisis. The nasty war of words which started on Twitter that has now escalated into a full-on diplomatic crisis.
An NGO raised concerns regarding Saudi’s human rights crackdown
The fight started last week, when Amnesty International – a human rights NGO – learned the Saudi government had arrested several female human rights activists.
This comes as a part of the wider human rights crackdown by Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince who’s next in line to the throne. MBS (as he’s known) has been hailed in the West as a young “reformer” who’s upending the kingdom’s conservative ways and ushering in a new era of modernization. But while he’s initiated some reforms, including lifting the ban on women driving, he’s also ruthlessly consolidated power and cracked down on dissent, arresting many of the activists who championed those same reforms. The arrests clearly are at odds with the progressive image the government has projected this year under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The NGO further stated that it is clear that the Prince’s hyped reforms exclude human right activism and that they cannot continue to publically state that they are dedicated to reform while treating women’s rights campaigners in a cruel way by arresting them.
So, what does Canada have to do with an NGO’s stance against the arrests in the Kingdoms. Well, of the many women activists arrested one of them is Samar Badawi. An acclaimed activist herself, she’s also the sister of Raif Badawi, a dissident blogger who’s been imprisoned in Saudi since 2012 by the Saudi government since 2012 on charges of apostasy and “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. He has also been subjected to public flogging. After his arrest, his wife and their three children fled to Quebec in 2015 to escape further persecution. Recently in 2018, they became Canadian citizens.
The Saudi-Canada spat started over a series of angry tweet
On Thursday, Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland expressed her anger over the arrest of Samar Badawi. Her tweet stated “Very alarmed to learn” of Samar Badawi’s arrest, adding, “Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.” An soon Canada’s foreign ministry too jumped in and issued a tweet calling on Saudi Arabia to “immediately release” Samar Badawi as well as “all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”
Now, this royally pissed off the Saudi government
Saudi Arabia has placed a flurry of diplomatic sanctions against Canada for their interference. In a series of angry tweets, the Saudi foreign ministry slammed Canada’s “negative and surprising attitude” and called Canada’s position “an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of #SaudiArabia.” The foreign ministry also announced in the Twitter thread that it was kicking the Canadian ambassador out of the country and suspending “all new trade and investment transactions” between Saudi Arabia and Canada.
So, here’s all the Saudis have done in the past one week:
Kicked out the Canadian ambassador
Recalled its ambassador from Canada
Suspended new trade and investment with Canada
Canceled direct flights to Toronto by Saudi’s state airline
Started selling off its Canadian assets
Announced a plan to relocate Saudi scholarship students in Canada to other countries
Begun to transfer all Saudi patients out of Canadian hospitals
Stopped all medical treatment programs in Canada
Canada too gave it back!
Despite the backlash and diplomatic sanctions, Canada continued to double their pressure in the Kingdom. In an email, a spokesperson for Freeland responded to the Saudi threats. “We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Marie-Pier Baril. “Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world,” she continued, adding, “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”
While the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the Palestinian Authority have all stood by Saudi Arabia amid the country’s spat with Canada, the U.S.(traditionally one of Canada’s most important friends) has stayed on the sidelines of the dispute thus far. As per experts, both the countries need to diplomatically resolve this together and that the world leaders cannot do it for them.
A version of this was originally published in Vox