Saudi Arabia has expelled the Canadian ambassador and announced a freeze on “all new business” with Ottawa following criticism by Canadian diplomats of the kingdom’s arrest of women’s rights activists.
The Saudi state airline, Saudia, has also suspended flights to Canada from 13 August, while Saudi state television revealed Education Ministry plans to cancel scholarships for close to 12,000 Saudi students in Canada and explore the transfer of those students and their dependents to other countries.
The measures are a clear indication that the present government in Riyadh – under the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – will tolerant no external criticism of its domestic policy.
“This message is obviously not just being sent to Ottawa,” Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Washington-based risk consultancy Gulf State Analytics told the Associated Press. “It’s a message to countries across Europe and across the rest of the world that criticism of Saudi Arabia has consequences.”
While it remains unclear what, if any, immediate impact the measures could have for existing business between Canadian and Saudi entities, any freeze on new business will be of deep concern to Canadian companies currently active in the kingdom.
SNC Lavalin, in particular, is a prominent EPC actor within the kingdom, and was only recently awarded both a new five-year framework agreement to service to oil assets in the Divided Zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and a contract to install facilities at Saudi Aramco’s Wasit Gas Plant to the northeast of Jubail.
Ottawa also receives 10 per cent of its imported crude oil from Saudi Arabia, while bilateral trade between the two nations – including several lucrative defence deals – stands at $3 billion a year.
The actions against Canada are not dissimilar to the measures taken against Germany in March 2018, when Riyadh cut ties with some German firms over criticism by German diplomats of the war in Yemen.
The dispute with Canada, however, centres around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling for Riyadh to “immediately release” detained women’s rights activists, including Samar Badawi, the sister of a Saudi writer, Raif Badawi, arrested 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Islam while blogging.
The wife of the imprisoned writer, Ensaf Haidar, currently lives in exile in Canada, and received Canadian citizenship this year, together with her three children, on 1 July, or Canada Day.
In 2015, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden and stopped issuing work visas for Swedish individuals after the Scandinavian country’s foreign minister criticised the Badawi court decision.