The power play of wooing every major Western country started on June 21, the day Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed as the crown prince. MbS — colloquial name of the visionary young royal —completed a comprehensive global tour, visiting influential politicians and business leaders, to bring in FDIs and sell his reformatory vision for the oil-producing kingdom. The crown prince is seeking an economic boost, coupled with some reforms, that would make the Middle East “the next Europe.”
But, recently, it all came crashing down. A high-strung political tiff has demonstrated the fragility of the crown prince’s vision. On August 5, Riyadh announced the suspension of trade with Canada, and declared Canadian ambassador persona non grata. Later, Saudi also stepped down by quitting its envoy in Ottawa.
This impulsive move is attributed to Canada’s objection against the arrests of several civil-society figures in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi, the sister of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi. Further, what instigated fuel in the spat were tweets from Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, and the Foreign Ministry itself.
These tweets outraged the Saudis, following which they took such impulsive steps. The kingdom’s officials stated Canada’s remarks as “blatant interference in the kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols” and a “major, unacceptable affront to the kingdom’s laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the kingdom’s sovereignty.”
Moreover, Saudi Arabia has also canceled the scheduled Saudi Airlines flights to Canada. Saudi Arabia did not stop at this, it further commanded the departure of over 12,000 Saudi students enrolled in Canadian universities. It was an unexpected step— perceived as an exaggeration on the Saudi’s end, by some analysts — that might disrupt the students as well as their families.
The Saudi Arabia-Canada spat turned uglier, when a verified Twitter account of the Saudi Arab government posted a terror-threatening image of an airplane proceeding towards the Toronto skyline, reminding the Canadians of 9/11 twin-tower crash. The tweet was later deleted, impelling an apology from a Saudi Arabia embassy official in Washington.
The Canadian officials remained on their stance. Marie-Pier Baril, spokeswoman for the Canadian Foreign Ministry said, “Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women rights, and freedom of expression around the world.”
Amid the controversial Saudi Arabia-Canada spat, an ongoing $12 billion arms deal between Saudi Arabia and Canada remains in the chill. The deal was inked by the Conservative government in 2014, and after its defeat, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upheld the deal, facing backlash at home. This led to a long-standing spat in Saudi-Canadian ties.
Mohammed bin Salman is also largely emerging as the flag-bearer of the garbled and unsuccessful foreign policies, which have also resulted in the catastrophic Yemen war, and a failed effort to influence the Trump administration on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.