'We don't have a single friend': Canada's Saudi spat reveals country is alone
Canada âWe donât have a single friendâ: Canadaâs Saudi spat reveals country is alone
As Saudi officials lashed out at Canada this week, the US remained on the sidelines, signaling a blatant shift in the relationship
Soon after Donald Trump took office, it became clear that the longstanding relationship between the United States and its northern neighbour was about to change: there were terse renegotiations of Nafta, thousands of as ylum seekers walking across the shared border and attacks on against Canadaâs protectionist trade policies.A tweet, then a trade freeze: latest row shows Saudi Arabia is asserting new rules Read more
But this week laid bare perhaps the most blatant shift in the relationship, as the United States said it would remain on the sidelines while Saudi officials lashed out at Canada over its call to release jailed civil rights activists.
âItâs up for the government of Saudi Arabia and the Canadians to work this out,â state department spokesperson Heather Nauert said this week. âBoth sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We canât do it for them.â
Canadaâs lonely stance was swiftly noticed north of the border.âWe do not have a single friend in the whole entire world,â Rachel Curran, a policy director under former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, lamented on Twitter.
The United Kingdom was similarly muted in its response, noted Bob Rae, a former leader of the federal Liberal party. âThe Brits and the Trumpians run for cover and say âweâre friends with both the Saudis and the Canadians,ââ Rae wrote on Twitter. âThanks for the support for human rights, guys, and weâll remember this one for sure.â
The spat appeared to have been sparked last week when Canadaâs foreign ministry expressed its concern over the arrest of Saudi civil society and womenâs rights activists, in a tweet that echoed concerns previously voiced by the United Nations.
Saudi Arabia swiftly shot back, expelling Canadaâs ambassador and suspending new trade and investment with Ottawa, making plans to remove thousands of Saudi students and medical patients from Canada, and suspending the state airlineâs flights to and from Canada, among other actions.
Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabiaâs foreign minister urged Canada to âfix its big mistakeâ and warned that the kingdom was considering additional measures against Canada.
Analysts and regional officials said the spat had little to do with Canada, instead characterising Riyadhâs actions as a broader signal to western governments that any criticism of its domestic policies is unacceptable.
Several countries expressed support for Saudi Arabia, including Egypt and Russia. But Canada continued to stand alone, even as state-run media in the kingdom reported the beheading and âcrucifixionâ of a man convicted of killing a woman and carrying out other crimes.
Justin Trudeau, Canadaâs prime minister, said Canada was continuing to engage diplomatically and politically with Saudi Arabia. âWe have respect for their importance in the world and recognise that they have made progress on a number of important issues,â he told reporters this week.
He insisted, however, that his government would continue to press Saudi Arabia on its human rights record. âWe will, a t the same time, continue to speak clearly and firmly on issues of human rights at home and abroad wherever we see the need.â
In this particular dispute, Canada did not need US help, said Thomas Juneau, a professor at the University of Ottawa. âSaudi Arabia-Canada relations are very limited, so thereâs not a lot of damage being done to Canada right now,â he said. âBut this should be a source of major anxiety: when a real crisis comes and we are alone, what do we do?âSaudi critics jab Canada on Twitter and TV as diplomatic feud deepens Read more
The weekâs events have added impetus to a conversation that is slowly getting underway in Canada, Juneau said. âWe are starting some serious soul-searching in the sense of what does it mean for Canada to have a US that is much more unilateral, much more dismissive of the rules and the norms and of its leadership role in the international order that it has played for 70 years?â
These chan ges south of the border have clearly emboldened Saudi Arabia, Juneau argued, describing the kingdomâs recent actions in Yemen, Qatar and Lebanon as a pattern of aggressive, ambitious and reckless behaviour.
He saw no immediate end to the row, particularly as neither side is suffering significant costs in the dispute. Saudi Arabia has shown little inclination in recent years to walk back from its reckless and impulsive behaviour, he said, while Canadaâs federal government â" facing an election in some 14 months and already under fire for signing off on the sale of more than 900 armoured vehicles to Riyadh â" is loathe to be seen adopting any kind of conciliatory posture towards the conservative kingdom.
While some in Canada had been disappointed to see the UK and Europe opt to publicly stay out of the diplomatic spat, Juneau described it as unsurprising. âWhen Saudi Arabia had comparable fights with Sweden and Germany in recent years, did Canada go out of its way to side with Sweden and Germany? No, not at all,â he said. âWe stayed quiet because we had nothing to gain from getting involved. So on the European side, the calculation is the same.â
Canadaâs lonely stand for womenâs rights in the kingdom did earn the support of some around the world; this week saw the Guardian and the New York Times publish editorials urging Europe and the US to stand with Canada. So did the Washington Post, going one step further by publishing their editorial in Arabic.
Their call was echoed by a handful of prominent voices in the US, including Bernie Sanders. âItâs entirely legitimate for democratic governments to highlight human rights issues with undemocratic governments,â the US senator wrote on Twitter. âThe US must be clear in condemning repression, especially when done by governments that receive our support.âTopics
- Saudi Arabia
- Foreign policy
- Middle East and North Africa
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