A Saudi-Canadian War, Eh? Eh!
In one of the weirder international disputes of the weekend, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada's ambassador and threatened to stop trade with Canada after the US's neighbor to the north suggested imprisoning human rights activists was not a cool thing to do. There's still a pretty good chance the two countries won't be going toe to toe with thermonuclear weapons, largely because neither has them, but with Donald Trump loving Saudi Arabia and hating on Canada all summer, that could of course change.
The trouble stems from Saudi Arabia being its lovably authoritarian self again; since May of this year, the Saudi government has been cracking down on dissent, arresting at least 15 human rights and women's rights activists, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Among them are Hatoon al-Fassi, who was one of the leaders of the effort to allow Saudi women to drive -- the kingdom recently made it legal for women to drive, but also arrested al-Fassi and others who'd pushed for an end to the ban, because what if those dangerous radicals want other rights? Some of those arrested have disappeared without any word of where they're being held or why. It's all part of the campaign by Mohammad bin Salman (MbS for you followers of international dictator nicknames) to make life seem better for some Saudis while also making sure nobody questions his power.
The Washington Post reports,
Two more activists were arrested last week, according to human rights advocates, including Samar Badawi, the sister of dissident blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail in Saudi Arabia for "insulting Islam through electronic channels." His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children became Canadian citizens on Canada Day last month and live in Quebec.
Here's the tweet by Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs (et Ministre des Affaires étrangères du Canada), Chrystia Freeland, which started the international incident last Thursday:
Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands t… https://t.co/wzJ70bEknY— Chrystia Freeland (@Chrystia Freeland) 1533221211.0
Bad enough, but what really pissed off the Saudis was this follow-up from the Canadian Foreign Ministry on Friday (Vendredi):
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia,… https://t.co/ZXK78Ak8it— Foreign Policy CAN (@Foreign Policy CAN) 1533305410.0
The Saudis reacted like they were the Soviet Union being asked politely to please not send dissident poets to the gulag, please, issuing a very pissy statement -- also on Twitter, because that's how international affairs work now, THANKS DONALD -- decrying Canada's "overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom" and claiming Canada's comments were "in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between States," which, nah, isn't really true, because countries express grave concern and ask other countries to please not be monstrous all the time.
The Saudis also recalled their ambassador and declared Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak to be "persona non grata," giving him 24 hours to get the hell out of Riyadh.
In an earlier series of tweets, the Saudi Foreign Ministry called the Canadian statement an "attack on" the Kingdom (the full statement said "affront to") and insisted The Saudis now have the right to get even:
#Statement | Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from #Canada, means that we are allowed to in… https://t.co/2sIl7Elf4l— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦) 1533509984.0
That was apparently a cue to unleash Saudi Arabia's very own Twitter Flying Monkey Brigade, which immediately began trolling Canada with tweets about Quebec independence and Canada's treatment of First Nations, which as we all know are very serious concerns to the freedom-loving people of Saudi Arabia.
@CanEmbSA In Saudi Arabia we feel worried about Canada committing cultural genocide against Indigenous people. We a… https://t.co/nl9SQCzeq6— خالد بن عبدالله آل سعود 🇸🇦 (@خالد بن عبدالله آل سعود 🇸🇦) 1533493789.0
One tweet even noted that if Saudis had wanted to, maybe they coulda supported Quebec's independence referendum -- back in 1995 -- "through the funding of media campaigns and attacks against the Canadian government." But hey, Canada, you oughta know that Saudi Arabia doesn't "meddle in other nations' domestic affairs," very much unlike a certain bunch of poutine swillers, OKAY?
Oh, hey, would this be a good place to mention the report from last week that Saudi Arabia was on the verge of invading Qatar last summer, but then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson let the Saudi government know that would be a really bad idea? For which MbS and the Saudis' allies in the United Arab Emirates appear to have rewarded Tillerson by pushing Team Trump for his ouster at State. It seems a tad relevant, what with the "not meddling" bit.
By golly, it's almost as if the Twitter campaign had been coordinated, somehow:
This is fun cc @b_momani @cafreeland #cdnpoli https://t.co/lY9jnc2wxA— Alheli Picazo (@Alheli Picazo) 1533514634.0
And then there's this lovely message captured this morning; it was quickly deleted, but the implication was clear enough:
The same account, which appears to be an official Saudi "information" channel, later tweeted the same picture and quote, but without the airliner, so everything's cool now. No threats or anything.
As for the Canadian response to the ambassador's ejection, a spokesperson for Ms. Freeland went with diplomacy, because Canadians are just like that:
We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women's rights, and freedom of expression around the world. Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.
There are also rumblings of Saudi trade sanctions against Canada, which sells some $1.4 billion (in Canadian play money) to the Kingdom annually, mostly vehicles and heavy equipment. Plus some armored vehicles, in a deal made by the previous Canadian government.
We'll assume no shooting will break out, but depending on how much leverage MbS can place on Jared Kushner, we also won't be surprised if Donald Trump threatens to drop Ted Cruz on Ottawa and seize Canada's oil.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.