The diplomatic and economic standoff between Canada and Saudi Arabia escalated Tuesday, with the kingdom-controlled media warning that Canada faces a “real risk” of upsetting the entire Muslim world.
The Saudis are angry because Global Affairs Canada, the government department that manages Canada’s diplomatic relations, on its Twitter feed Friday urged the kingdom to “immediately release” Saudi women’s rights activist Samar Badawi and all other “peaceful human rights activists” it had detained.
To the ruling Al-Saud dynasty, which controls the kingdom with an iron fist, that was a classic case of a country sticking its nose into Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs.
The Saudis retaliated by recalling about 16,000 Saudi students attending colleges and universities in Canada, freezing any new trade deals, expelling the Canadian ambassador, cancelling all flights to Toronto and bringing their ambassador home.
The latest salvo comes after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that Canada would not be cowed by Saudi actions.
“Canada will continue to advocate for human rights and for the brave women and men who push for these fundamental rights around the world,” she said in a statement.
An unsigned editorial in the English edition of the Saudi-based Arab News urged caution on Canada’s part, since this row carries “the real risk of upsetting the entire Muslim and Arab worlds.”
It also recommends that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dispatch a delegation to Saudi Arabia immediately to apologize for “the breach of diplomatic etiquette”.
Trudeau had not responded to the request Tuesday afternoon.
Some Arab nations and organizations have expressed support for the Saudis, including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, the Muslim World League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
But while Amnesty International sided with Canada and urged other Western countries to do the same, the silence has been mostly deafening.
The United States said it has brought up the issue of human rights with the Saudis previously, but not this time.
“It’s up for the government of Saudi Arabia and the Canadians to work this out,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
The Saudis have also threatened to exclude Canadian companies from participation in the lucrative Vision 2030 program, where the kingdom is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize its economy.
Analysts familiar with the machinations of the secretive Saudi government said Canada is not the real target of wrath – it is a demonstration of power to warn other countries to stay out of Saudi domestic affairs.
By Barry Ellsworth in Trenton, Canada