Gantry cranes at the Port of Vancouver. Saudi Arabia has suspended diplomatic ties and new trade dealings with Canada. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s suspension of diplomatic ties and new trade dealings with Canada in response to Ottawa’s call for the “immediate release” of activist Samar Badawi, is a dramatic escalation that highlights the kingdom’s increasingly assertive foreign policy under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

Riyadh ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the country and recalled its ambassador to Ottawa over Canada’s “blatant interference” in its affairs, according to the Saudi foreign ministry. It gave Dennis Horak 24 hours to leave the country, adding it retained “its rights to take further action”.

The statements came after Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh called on the Saudi authorities to “immediately release” Badawi and other activists. Badawi is a Canadian citizen whose brother and blogger Raif Badawi is already in jail in the kingdom.

The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is in contravention of the most basic international norms.”

 - Statement by Saudi Foreign Ministry


“Using the phrase [immediately release] in the Canadian statement is very unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a series of tweets.

“The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia... Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” it said.

Riyadh was also suspending educational exchange programmes with Canada and moving Saudi scholarship recipients there to other countries. Riyadh will “stop training, scholarship and fellowship programmes” there, state-run Al Akhbariya TV reported.

Plans to relocate 7,000 students and their families in Canada to other countries, primarily the US and Britain, were already underway, education ministry official Jassem Al Harbash said.

These students, many of whom are enrolled in graduate or medical school, are accompanied by more than 5,000 dependents.

“The US and UK will get the lion’s share and we’ve begun coordinating with the missions there,” Harbash said.

Ireland, Australia, Japan and Singapore were also on the list of potential destinations, he said.

A spokeswoman for Freeland said Canada was “seeking greater clarity” about the matter. “We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from Saudi Arabia,” said Marie-Pier Baril.

Late on Monday, Saudi state airline Saudia stated in a post on its official Twitter account that it was suspending flights to and from Toronto, the latest in a series of measures the kingdom announced on Monday in its diplomatic row with Canada.

More assertive role

Under Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has reacted more assertively against countries that it perceives as intervening in its internal affairs. In little more than a year, the kingdom has led a four-country coalition that severed ties with Qatar, recalled its ambassador to Germany and cut back its trade dealings with some German companies amid a diplomatic row.

In the series of tweets yesterday, the foreign ministry urged other nations to stay away from the kingdom’s internal affairs. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens,” the ministry said.

Ayham Kamel, head of Eurasia Group’s Mideast practice, said Canada should have expected the repercussions. “The win [for the Saudis] is that everyone will get the message,” Kamel said. “This is not just to Canada’s mailbox. It is about sending a message to the West that you don’t get to lecture us.”

Two months ago, Saudi women were given the right to drive and Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has since initiated a series of liberal reforms in the kingdom.

UAE, Bahrain extend support for Saudi Arabia

The UAE has voiced its complete solidarity with Saudi Arabia. In a statement issued yesterday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UAE denounced any interference in Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs, and said that it supports the measures adopted by Saudi government.

The ministry stressed the importance of respecting charters that govern relations between nations that are based on respecting sovereignty and not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

The UAE stands with Saudi Arabia, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said yesterday. “We stand by Saudi Arabia as it defends its sovereignty and laws, and any necessary measures it takes in this regard. …Some countries assume that their model or experience allows them to interfere in our affairs, and that is unacceptable,” Dr Gargash tweeted.

Bahrain also said it stood with Saudi Arabia, rejecting what it called Canada’s interference in Riyadh’s internal affairs.

GCC Secretary General supports Saudi actions against Canada      

Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdullatif Al Zayani today (Monday) expressed his support to the actions taken by Saudi Arabia against Canada's Foreign Ministry and the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh.

Al Zayani affirmed, in a press statement, his condemnation and rejection of the Canadian action, which, he said, contained "false claims".

He described the Canadian statements as an unacceptable interference in Saudi Arabia's internal affairs.

"These statements are a clear violation of the principles of the UN Charter and also detrimental to the relations between Saudi Arabia and Canada," Al Zayani added.

AT A GLANCE: SAUDI-CANADIAN BILATERAL TRADE

Saudi investments in Canada

 G3 Global Holdings Ltd. is a joint venture between Bunge Ltd. and Saudi Agricultural & Livestock Investment Co., which purchased the former Canadian Wheat Board in 2015.

 Saudi Arabia supplies oil to the Irving refinery in Saint John in New
Brunswick (pictured above)

 Tanks and armored vehicles are among the top Canadian exports to the kingdom. Tanks and armored vehicles are among the top Canadian exports to the kingdom.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN

Canada’s remarks are “an affront to the kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty,” said the Saudi foreign ministry. As a result, Saudi Arabia has now:

Recalled its ambasador to Ottawa

Ordered the Canadian envoy to Riyadh to leave within 24 hours

Frozen all new trade and investment transactions between the two countries

Reserved the right to take further action

 The Saudi Arabian Embassy is shown in Ottawa, Canada.

 
UAE, Bahrain extend support for Saudi Arabia


The UAE has voiced its complete solidarity with Saudi Arabia. In a statement issued on Monday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UAE denounced any interference in Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs, and said that it supports the measures adopted by Saudi government.

The ministry stressed the importance of respecting customs and charters that govern relations between nations that are based on respecting sovereignty and not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

The UAE stands with Saudi Arabia in defending its sovereignty, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said yesterday. “We stand by Saudi Arabia as it defends its sovereignty and laws, and any necessary measures it takes in this regard.

We cannot accept for our laws and sovereignty to be under any pressure or compromised. Some countries assume that their model or experience allows them to interfere in our affairs, and that is unacceptable,” Dr Gargash tweeted.
 
Arab League supports Saudi Arabia

The Arab League (AL) has expressed its support for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia's rejection of Canada's interference into its internal affairs.
 
In a statement on Monday, the AL's General Secretariat said the Kingdom's diplomatic dispute with Canada reflects a non-positive attitude developed by some countries that point fingers of criticism at other countries in regards to their internal affairs.
 
The Saudi stance falls in line with the AL's firm rejection of any foreign interference into the internal affairs of its member states, said the statement, which adds that AL's stand goes in harmony with relevant international charters on the non-interference into the domestic affairs of sovereign states.