The ongoing political row between Canada and Saudi Arabia over Ottawa’s demand that the kingdom release detained women’s rights activists in the country is picking up momentum. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave Saudi Arabia “within 24 hours” after his country criticized the recent arrest of Saudi women’s rights activists.
However, Saudi Arabia, showing heightened sensitivity into what it perceives as foreign intrusion into its own affairs, upped the ante even more, by saying it would freeze “all new business” between the kingdom and Canada and also in an admittedly knee-jerk response, recalled thousands of Saudi students attending Canadian universities, a move to hurt Canada financially.
Omar Allam, a former Canadian diplomat and head of Allam Advisory Group, said the recall of 12,000 to 15,000 Saudi students from Canada, and accompanying relatives, is going to remove as much as CAD$2 billion in annual investment in the Canadian economy.
Ratcheting up rhetoric
“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,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”
Canada, however, sees the situation differently. “Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world,” Marie-Pier Baril, a spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement. “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.
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