It started with a tweet from Chrystia Freeland, 2018 diplomat of the year, about the case of Samar Badawi. Because in a world with Trump why not just tweet all our diplomatic relations? Nothing bad has ever happened on Twitter before. I’m just glad she kept the emojis out of it this time. But lazy diplomacy aside, Ms. Freeland did raise a valid concern. Which frankly shocked me since even looking at a Muslim here in Canada is bound to get you accused of Islamophobia. Saudi Arabia has a long history of human rights violations. Or at least that’s what we would call it here in the west. But in sharia law enforced Saudi Arabia the restrictions on one’s sovereignty is considered the path to God.
Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was appointed defence minister on January 23, 2015, after his father’s accession to the throne. In the same year, he was named deputy crown prince. He has enforced a more aggressive foreign policy to rival Iran’s influence in the nearby regions. He has made headlines around the world in making social progressive changes of allowing women to drive and revoking the authority of the religious police to make arrests. In April of 2016 he declared his plans to diversify and privatize Saudi Arabia’s economy in an effort to rely less on oil. The plan is by the year 2030 Saudi Arabia will attract investment capital as it serves to connect the neighbouring continents.
However this was seen to be more of a PR stunt to distract from the controversial “purge” that was happening in the background. In November 2017, four ministers, 11 princes and several high-profile entrepreneurs were detained in what was called a “anti-corruption purge“. This on direct orders by Mohammad bin Salman. But critics claimed this purge targeting more competition than it did corruption. Fast forward today as Mohammad bin Salman exercises his military forces against the Houthi in Yemen, the conflict has left an estimated 56 000 dead while thousands other suffer from malnutrition and disease.
The most recent development was the murder of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He had published articles in the past which took a critical aim at the royals as he called for a need for more free speech in the kingdom. He went into the Saudi consulate in Turkey to handle divorce papers from his previous wife. Only he never came out. Turkey officials conducted an investigation where they determined that Khashoggi was killed by a coordinated strike which they linked directly to Mohammad bin Salman. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the findings in a public forum and Turkish authorities released evidence including an audio tape alleged to feature Khashoggi’s last moments.
Khashoggi had written one last article before his disappearance. This has caused senators in the US like Marco Rubio to react by guaranteeing congress will take action against Saudi Arabia whether or not Trump decides to take action. Meanwhile Trump refused to take a clear position on the matter until he had irrefutable proof that it was in fact Mohammad bin Salman behind the alleged murder plot. Then later Trump came out and declared that the Saudi-US relations took precedence over whatever events transpired over the Khashoggi incident.
Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.
– Chrystia Freeland, 2018 diplomat of the year
After tweeting this out Saudi Arabia swiftly moved to call back all their foreign exchange students which was estimated at 5,811 short term students and 9,120 long term students. Ranging from an estimated cost upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars. They also suspended all Saudi state airline trips to Toronto. Then they expelled our ambassador from Riyadh (and they did that over twitter too). Not that Freeland regrets the tweet, noting that she hadn’t said anything about Saudi Arabia that wasn’t consistent with what Liberals have been “publicly vocal” about for some time. “There is nothing new or novel about Canada’s support for human rights, very much including women’s rights, around the world and including in Saudi Arabia,” Freeland, 2018 diplomat of the year, told reporters in Vancouver.
I don’t know if Chrystia Freeland, 2018 diplomat of the year, was aware of the risks she was taking by signalling her virtues in her tweet but frankly this narrative from the media that all of this was ever so shocking and unpredictable is complete political spin bullshit. she could have expected a strong reaction if she was aware of Saudi Arabia’s 2015 reaction to Sweden’s foreign minister. Where attention was drawn to Raif Badawi’s treatment while criticizing Riyadh’s record on human rights. Saudi Arabia’s response was to temporarily recall it’s ambassador in Stockholm. I’m just saying, when dealing with a tyrant maybe a more serious approach than social media would’ve been a more appropriate way of addressing the issue. I don’t see her as willing to take on China, Pakistan or North Korea but I wouldn’t know, I don’t follow her twitter.
Now I’m certainly not about to defend Saudi Arabia by any means. Chrystia Freeland, 2018 diplomat of the year, is still my foreign affairs minister and I’m on team Canada every time. And even if I don’t like her methods, I at least agree that it’s about damn time that Saudi Arabia get called out for their atrocious human rights violations. Although I wonder if by the Liberals own standards if what Chrystia Freeland did was Islamophobic and violates twitter’s hateful conduct policy by promoting harm against a member of their protected category. I mean, who are we to criticize an Islamic state country? When they call women whores or declare them property of their husbands or sons, isn’t that just their truth?
The part that makes this whole situation sticky is that, like the US, Canada has invested interests in Saudi Arabia. We currently trade about 4 billion worth of goods with them. A good chunk of which are military vehicles. So not only are we fiscally tied to the Saudis but we’re also complicit in what they use those combat vehicles for. You know, the war in Yemen that Trudeau has been so critical about. Some of that blood is on our hands. So we’re in the same boat as the US who does billions of dollars in military dealings with the Saudis as well. Trudeau has expressed a desire to actually pull out of these dealings but doesn’t see a way out of the current contract that was signed by the previous Harper government. At least not without losing a bunch of money in breaking the contract. My question is, are we really that sure about cutting all ties to Saudi Arabia? Over a US journalist and their handling of Badawi?
Anyway, now Trudeau is at the G20 meeting where he spoke to Prince Mohammed bin Salman about their diplomatic relations. And among the mass murder and malnutrition going on in Yemen, the planned murder of a journalist, imprisonment of Badawi, millions of dollars in trade sanctions, I’m proud to report to you that Trudeau is addressing the issues that matter most. Gender equity! I’m sure Oshawa is breathing a sigh of relief. Nothing to see here. In all seriousness Trudeau claims he did speak to the prince about how he’ll “always stand up strongly” for human rights and apparently he also spoke to Putin about what’s been going on in Ukraine. But didn’t go into details.
My question to you is this. We do billions of dollars in trade (or at least we did) with Saudi Arabia. And they oppose a lot of countries that we oppose as allies of Israel. Like Iran and Lebanon and Syrian president Bashard al-Assad, who is supported by Russia. They also actively oppose the muslim brotherhood. They may be very different than us but in terms of our options, they’ve always played the role of the enemy of our enemies. And I hate to say it but I agree with Trump when he says if we cut off all ties only end up pushing them into the arms of our enemies. And that would no doubt be far more damaging in the long term. Perhaps the warm welcoming Putin gave M.B.S. at the G20 painted that picture perfectly.
It also doesn’t help having the Trump deranged narrative news only reporting on the details of the story around Khashoggi’s murder to make Trump look like a heartless bastard. They care more about that than even pronouncing Khashoggi’s name properly. Only a few sources seem to even be addressing that Khashoggi was more than just a journalist. He established a political party in the US called Democracy for the Arab World Now. Based around supporting Islamist gains in democratic elections throughout the region. This meant that Khashoggi was in the process of leading an Islamist political opposition to Mohammed bin Salman. So there is a hell of a lot more to this than mere censorship. And there have been allegations that in that movement he had direct ties to the Muslim Brotherhood whom we consider a terrorist organization.
I’m not excusing what happened to Khashoggi by any means. But with so much at stake I can’t help but feel like it just isn’t worth losing the relationship we do have. And perhaps through our relationship we may have opportunities yet in the future to put more pressure on Saudi Arabia for social reform. I really do believe that. If we can impress more capitalism integration then there’s no doubt in my mind that liberty will find it’s way to the people. If they do manage to pull off their 2030 vision, well that’s a lot of opportunity there. And we need to think about the future. I’d like to know what you think about all of this. Wherever you fall on the issue, this is definitely something we all need to be discussing. We need to talk about Mohammed bin Salman.
“hold your friends close but your enemies closer.”
- Michael Corleone (Mario Puzo), The Godfather Part II