Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1405, ( 9 - 15 August 2018)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1405, ( 9 - 15 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Ambassador expelled

Ambassador expelled
Ambassador expelled
Al-Ahram Weekly

Saudi Arabia has declared the Canadian ambassador to the country “persona non grata” and given him 24 hours to leave the country. The Saudis have also recalled their ambassador from Canada, suspended all new business transactions and investments linked with Ottawa, and cancelled direct flights to Toronto by the Saudi state airline.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry made the announcement early on Monday, giving ambassador Dennis Horak 24 hours to leave the kingdom. It was not immediately clear if  Horak was still in Saudi Arabia. In a sharply worded statement, the foreign ministry made it clear that it would not tolerate any further negative comments on the kingdom. “Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as an acknowledgment of our right to interfere in Canadian domestic affairs,” it said. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they cannot claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”

The Saudi Arabian government also plans to withdraw the Saudi students it has been sponsoring at Canadian universities, colleges and other schools in retaliation for Canadian criticisms of its human-rights record. The news emerged on the same day that Saudi Arabian Airlines announced it would suspend all flights to and from Toronto from 13 August. More than 15,000 Saudis are studying in Canada on scholarships, grants or in trainee programmes funded by Riyadh. Adding accompanying family members brings the number up to 20,000 or more. The students will now be placed in programmes in other countries with similar education systems, such as the United Kingdom or the United States, Saudi officials said.

The steps came as Saudi Arabia’s young Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman has been promising a new and more modern kingdom in the making and has been enjoying a closer relationship with US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. “For Canadian universities, this is a significant hit,” said Thomas Juneau, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. “Saudi Arabia sends the fourth-largest contingent of foreign students to this country.”

The Saudi action came after a series of tweets from Canadian officials over Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland called in a tweet for the immediate release of civil-rights activists in the country and signalled concern over a new crackdown on dissidents by Riyadh. These included Samar Badawi, the sister of imprisoned Saudi writer Raif  Badawi, in jail for “insulting Islam” since 2012 and earlier subjected to a public flogging. Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Quebec with the couple’s three children, recently obtained Canadian citizenship.

Angry tweets started to hit social media on Sunday, when the Saudi Foreign Ministry slammed Canada’s “negative and surprising attitude” and called its position “an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

“The win [for the Saudis] is that everyone will get the message,” Ayham Kamel, the head of political consultancy the Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice, said. “This is not just for Canada’s mailbox. It is about sending a message to the entire West that you don’t get to lecture us,” Kamel was quoted as saying.

 A similar dispute took place to a lesser degree a few months ago when Germany blamed Saudi Arabia and its allies for the war in Yemen and the Germans found themselves kicked out of Saudi Arabia’s Neom project worth $500 billion. Earlier, Germany had won the lion’s share of contracts under the project. Leaked reports suggested that Saudi Arabia had also imposed a de facto boycott of Germany, its main European trading partner.

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