Flag of Saudi Arabia
Aug. 8, 2017
Canada begs for help from the United Arab Emirates and Britain to defuse the nasty dispute with Saudi Arabia, but the United States abandons Canada.
The Saudi government recalled its ambassador to Ottawa, barred Canada's Ambassador from returning to his post, placed bans on trade, and recalled 12,000 students from Canada, because Canada urged the release of jailed human-rights activists in Saudi Arabia.
Canada sought help from Britain, as that government urged the two nations to show restraint with one another. The stark surprise was the United States, traditionally Canada's most important friend. The USA has diplomatically abandoned Canada, and made clear it would not get involved. President Trump has criticized Prime Minister Trudeau, while Washington has made stronger ties with Riyadh.
New York Times
Saudi Arabia’s Ugly Spat With Canada
By expelling the Canadian ambassador, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman undermines the reforms he has made.
By The Editorial Board, New York Times
Saudi Arabia and its crockery-breaking heir apparent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are, once again, opening up claims of advancing a more progressive future for the kingdom to doubt.
Faced with criticism from Canada over the treatment of two prominent human rights activists, Saudi rulers on Monday did the kind of thing that backward, insecure despots often do — they lashed out and penalized their critics.
Riyadh expelled the Canadian ambassador and announced a freeze on all new business with Canada, which counts Saudi Arabia as its second-largest export market in the Middle East. The Saudis also said the kingdom would withdraw from Canada the approximately 12,000 Saudi students on government-funded scholarships and family members and transfer them to other countries.
It’s not unusual for countries to balk at external criticism. But this Saudi retribution is unnecessarily aggressive and clearly intended to intimidate critics into silence. It’s the kind of move that, in the past, would have immediately elicited a firm, unified opposition from the West. So far, there’s hardly been even a whimper of protest.
Canada ran afoul of the Saudis when its foreign ministry called for the release of the women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, who was arrested last week, and her brother, Raif Badawi, who is in prison for running a website that criticized Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment.
In 2013, Mr. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes with a cane, 10 years in prison and a large fine for administering the site. He received the first 50 lashes in 2015, but his punishment was suspended, at least temporarily, after a video of the lashings drew international outrage.
Saudi Arabia has offered no explanation for why Ms. Badawi, whose activist-lawyer former husband is also in jail, was detained. But she has long campaigned against the kingdom’s guardianship laws, which prevent women from traveling abroad or obtaining certain medical procedures without the consent of a male relative.
The Saudis claim that the Canadian statement is “an overt and blatant interference” in its internal affairs, but that argument is specious. Mr. Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children have political asylum in Canada, and she became a Canadian citizen last month. And countries that care about human and political rights have a long history of speaking out, both individually and collectively, in defense of those principles and values that are enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the Charter and a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, whose mission is to strengthen the “promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.” Since ascending to power with his father, King Salman, in 2015, Prince Mohammed has encouraged foreign investment, granted women the right to drive, opened commercial movie theaters for the first time in 30 years and worked to soften the kingdom’s ultraconservative official school of Islam. But he also has evinced an authoritarian edge, locking up clerics, activists and businessmen.
Under Prince Mohammed, the Saudis have also not been shy about speaking out about, or directly intervening in, the affairs of other countries, including Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar. Saudi Arabian officials lobbied against President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and have spoken out against President Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
On Monday, the White House refused to comment. The only reaction so far has been from a State Department official who spoke on background and equated Canada and Saudi Arabia as “both close allies,” even though only Canada is a member of NATO. The statement did not mention the Badawis by name, referred mushily to “internationally recognized freedoms,” and reported that the Saudi government had been asked to supply more information.
Mr. Trump has previously signaled acquiescence to, if not fondness for, the kingdom’s authoritarian ways. And the American president's own attempts to bully Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, in June may make Prince Mohammed feel bolder about lashing out.
The administration’s passive response also represents a chilling abandonment of two activists whose unjust treatment has been acknowledged by the United States itself: Ms. Badawi received the Department’s Women of Courage Award in 2012 in a ceremony with Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government agency, has a page on its website highlighting Mr. Badawi’s case.
Not even two weeks ago, the State Department held a much-hyped religious freedom conference, headlined by Vice President Mike Pence, that issued a lofty statement advocating the “recognition of universal human rights and human dignity.” It’s hard to take that statement too seriously so long as the White House remains quiet about these recent developments.
New York Times Opinion
A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 7, 2018, on Page A22 of the New York edition