Several Arab states have jumped at the chance to support Saudi Arabia in a recent diplomatic spat with Canada, after its criticism of the ultraconservative kingdom’s arrest of women’s rights activists.
The Kingdom of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority have all released statements voicing their support for Saudi Arabia’s decision to expel Canadian ambassador Dennis Horak.
In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Canada of making “false” statements and interfering with Saudi internal affairs, and said ambassador Dennis Horak was no longer welcome in the country. It added that the Saudi ambassador to Ottawa was summoned back to the kingdom for consultations.
Saudi Arabia will also freeze all new trade and investment transactions with Canada.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry made the announcement early on Monday, local time, giving Horak 24 hours to leave the kingdom and said it would recall its ambassador to Canada as well.
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The Kingdom of Bahrain posted a note to its government website on Monday, affirming “its full solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against any external interference in its internal affairs or any side’s attempt to undermine the Saudi sovereignty.”
“The Kingdom of Bahrain also confirms its absolute support for the measures taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in response to the statements made by the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh, on what they called civil society activists,” the statement continued.
The statement appears to refer to a dispute centred around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling on the kingdom to “immediately release” detained women’s rights activists.
Samar Badawi, whose brother, writer Raif Badawi, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012, is currently among the activists detained in the kingdom. Raif was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam while blogging.
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His case has repeatedly been raised by both Western diplomats and international human rights groups, who have consistently demanded his release. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada and received Canadian citizenship along with her three children this past July during a Canada day ceremony.
“Whilst the Kingdom of Bahrain regrets Canada’s position, based on totally erroneous information that have nothing to do with reality on the ground, it absolutely rejects its unacceptable intervention in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the statement added.
In addition to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates’ Anwar Gargash also tweeted Monday that “We can only stand with Saudi Arabia in defending its sovereignty and laws and taking the necessary measures in this regard,” the tweet read.
“We can not accept that our laws and sovereignty are subject to pressure or compromise, the belief of some States that their model allows them to intervene in rejected affairs rejected,” Gargash’s tweet continues. Unlike Bahrain, Gargash did not name Canada specifically.
(Note: Gargash’s tweet was originally posted in Arabic, and was translated by Google Translate for use in this story).
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The Palestinian news agency Wafa also reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is standing with with Saudi Arabia, saying that “we stand with Saudi Arabia against blatant Canadian interference in its internal affairs.”
Lastly, the Arab Interior Ministers Council voiced its support for Saudi Arabia Monday evening local time in a statement on its website.
“The General Secretariat of the Council of Arab Ministers of Interior denounced the statements made by the Canadian Foreign Minister and the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh on what it called the civil society activists, calling it irresponsible,” the statement read.
“…the Canadian position is a blatant interference in the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia and an attempt to influence the criminal justice system and a call to escape from the law,” the post continued.
(Note: this statement was originally posted in Arabic, and was translated by Google Translate for use in this story).
While several states have voiced support for Saudi Arabia, none have gone so far as to take equally extreme actions against Ottawa.
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A handful of European Parliament members came out in support of Canada on Monday, prompted by a tweet from parliament member Marietje Schaake for the D66/ALDE political group since 2009.
The tweet read, “We support the government of @Canada in their condemnation of the #humanrights abuses by #SaudiArabia.” Included in the tweet was a statement along with a list of other European parliament members who support the Canadian government’s actions.
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“We, the undersigned Members of the European Parliament stand by and support the statements made by the Canadian government and also condemn the ongoing human rights violations in Saudi Arabia,” the statement reads. It goes on to ask EU High Representative Frederica Maria Mogherini to issue an official statement in support of the Canadian government.
So far, Italian politician Alessia Mosca, European Parliament Vice President Pavel Telička, and British politician and Labour Party member Julie Ward have signed the statement.
The sudden and unexpected dispute bore the hallmarks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old future leader, whose recent foreign policy exploits include the war in Yemen, the boycott of Qatar and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise resignation broadcast during a visit to the kingdom. Hariri later rescinded the resignation, widely believes to be orchestrated by Riyadh, and returned to Beirut.
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Analysts believe that Saudi Arabia’s recent actions are intended to send a message that criticizing the kingdom won’t be tolerated.
“This message is obviously not just being sent to Ottawa,” said Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based risk consultancy. “It’s a message to countries across Europe and across the rest of the world that criticism of Saudi Arabia has consequences.”
— With files from the Canadian Press.