What Exactly Happened Between Saudi Arabia and Canada?

August 19, 2018

In America, we have always considered the country to our north to be filled with peace, kindness, and maple syrup. In fact, academic surveys show that people in the US like Canadians more than any other nationality in the world. Therefore, it is no surprise that the news that Canada is involved in one of the worst diplomatic tussles of the year came as a shock to many Americans. Presently, both Canada and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia have seen their relations diminish to the point where both nations are withdrawing diplomats from each other’s territory with great speed, trade deals between the two nations have been scrapped, and Saudi Arabia has even gone so far as to request that all Saudis receiving medical care in Canada be transferred to other countries. How did this begin? How should the US use its world power status to handle this kind of dispute?


Photo: ctvnew.com 


Rather ironically (given how our own president likes to start controversies), this debacle started off with a tweet. Earlier this August, the Canadian government tweeted a message expressing disapproval of how the Saudi government imprisoned Samar Badawi, a longtime activist for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, without any reasons or charges. In return, Saudi Arabia furiously expelled its Canadian ambassador and vowed further retribution. Its foreign minister, Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir, declared that his country “won’t accept any attempt to interfere in our internal affairs.” Experts believe that the unusually harsh Saudi response is an attempt to send a message to other Western countries to stop criticizing the domestic actions of Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy. For its part, Canada remains defiant, with its foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, stating that “Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights.”


Unlike its attitude towards Canada, the US has been known to regard the Saudi government with a good deal of suspicion. The US State Department has been accusing Saudi Arabia of supporting Jihadist terrorism, ever since there were rumors that the Saudis were funding the Taliban. Nevertheless, the US still imports nearly 10% of the petroleum it uses from Saudi Arabia, so that is probably one of the reasons why the State Department is staying neutral in the current Saudi Arabia-Canada conflict. However, it is also worth noting that the US imports nearly 40% of the petroleum it uses from Canada. Also, unlike Saudi Arabia, the US and Canada are treaty-bound allies (through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, more commonly referred to as NATO). Therefore, due to their closer economic and diplomatic relations, the US should advance Canada’s interests over Saudi Arabia’s if it ever chooses to intervene in this conflict. This idea is further supported by Canada’s share of the US trade market through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).


Tuhin Chakraborty is an 18 year old freshman at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. He is considering studying History and Political Science there. His favorite book is Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. Tuhin believes that success is gaining the respect of everyone who knows you. He steps up for Civic Engagement: getting young people involved in politics and community action.


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