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A diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Canada was ignited last month by a tweet from Canada’s foreign ministry. Posted on August 3, the tweet said: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists”. Saudi Arabia’s response was to expel Dennis Horak, Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and to recall its own ambassador to Canada saying it retained “its rights to take further action”. Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry tweeted that “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia … will not accept interference in its internal affairs or imposed diktats from any country. The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of #SaudiArabia and is in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between states.” In the days following, the kingdom continued to take measures against Canada, including plans to remove thousands of Saudi students and medical patients from Canada and the suspension of flights to and from Canada on Saudi Arabian Airlines, the state carrier. According to the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia’s stateowned wheat buying agency, the Saudi Grains Organization, notified exporters it would no longer accept Canadianorigin grains in its international tenders, while the Saudi central bank instructed its asset managers overseas to dispose of Canadian equity, bonds and cash holdings “regardless of the cost”.

Several countries expressed support for Saudi Arabia, including Egypt and Russia, which both said that it was unacceptable to lecture the kingdom on human rights. “We have always said that the politicization of human rights matters is unacceptable,” Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, told reporters “What one probably needs in this situation is constructive advice and assistance rather than criticism from a “moral superior”,” she added. The United States refused to get involved describing both countries as close allies. In a written statement Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the state department wrote: “It’s up for the government of Saudi Arabia and the Canadians to work this out. Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them.” The United Kingdom was similarly muted in its response, with a foreign office spokesperson saying: “Canada and Saudi Arabia are both close partners of the UK, and we urge restraint during the current situation”

On August 8, in his first public comments since the row erupted, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau said his government had been speaking directly to the kingdom in an effort to resolve what he called “a diplomatic difference of opinion”. Trudeau said Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, had held a long conversation with her Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir, but offered no details as to what they had discussed. “We continue to engage diplomatically and politically with the government of Saudi Arabia,” Trudeau told reporters “We have respect for their importance in the world and recognize that they have made progress on a number of important issues.” Asked whether Canada was prepared to apologize to Saudi Arabia, Trudeau skirted the question by saying: “Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly and firmly, clearly and politely, about the need to respect human rights around the world. We will continue to do that”. He also dodged a question about the reluctance of the U.S. administration to back Canada in the dispute. “We recognize that every country has the right to make their own decisions when it comes to diplomacy and international relations,” he said. “I’m never going to impose on another country what their reactions should be or what their response should be.” Trudeau insisted, however, that his government would continue to press Saudi Arabia on its human rights record. “We will, at the same time, continue to speak clearly and firmly on issues of human rights at home and abroad wherever we see the need.” Trudeau’s comments came only hours after Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, described the row as a “matter of national security,” telling reporters that the kingdom was still considering additional measures against Canada. He did not elaborate on what these measures could entail.

“Canada needs to fix its big mistake,” al-Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh. “There is nothing to mediate. A mistake has been made and a mistake “Canada needs to fix its big mistake,” al-Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh. “There is nothing to mediate. A mistake has been made and a mistake would be made public once their cases reached the courts and repeated earlier allegations that they had been in touch with “foreign entities”.


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