The Saudi government has gone crazy over some mild Canadian criticism of its arbitrary arrests of activists:
Saudi Arabia ordered the expulsion on Monday of the Canadian ambassador and the halting of all new trade and investment deals between the two countries after Canada said it was “gravely concerned” about the recent arrests of Saudi civil society and women’s rights activists.
In a statement issued early Monday, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said the ambassador, Dennis Horak, was persona non grata and gave him 24 hours to leave the country, adding that it would be recalling its own envoy to Ottawa for further consultations and retained “its right to take further action.”
The Saudi overreaction is another example of Riyadh’s bungling, combative foreign policy that has become all too familiar over the last three years. Canada’s mild rebuke is the least that the Saudi government should expect when it locks up activists who have campaigned for the same reforms that the government uses to improve its image in the West. The episode calls attention back to the two-faced nature of the crown prince’s “reform” agenda.
Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) may permit a few modest changes, but only while intensifying repression of dissent and consolidating power in his own hands. In foreign policy, he picks unnecessary and costly fights that he can’t win, and in the process confirms to other governments and foreign investors that he is an inexperienced and inept de facto ruler whose reach exceeds his grasp.
The UAE has predictably sided with the Saudis in this spat:
The United Arab Emirates stands with Saudi Arabia “in defending its sovereignty” after the kingdom froze new trade and investment with Canada, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Monday on Twitter.
Authoritarian regimes unsurprisingly don’t like criticism of their domestic policies, but there is something especially obnoxious about hiding behind “sovereignty” while the UAE and the Saudis are busy trampling on the sovereignty of Yemen, slaughtering its civilians with bombs and missiles, and creating famine conditions for millions of people. If the Saudis are so eager to cut off ties with one of their arms suppliers over nothing, Canada and other Western governments should take that as a sign that their relationships with Riyadh are neither as valuable nor as reliable as they thought they were.