Picking Sides in Saudi Arabia’s Feud With Canada - WhoWhatWhy

Picking Sides in Saudi Arabia’s Feud With Canada

The Sunday Cartoon Op-Ed

Mohammed bin Salman
Mohammed bin Salman brings a howitzer to a Twitter fight. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sometimes when witnessing an argument, it’s not easy to figure out which side to support. Take the recent spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, you have Canada asking Saudi Arabia for the release of peaceful human rights activists. On the other hand, you have Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, completely melt down in response.

That’s a tough one.

To make things easier, an official Saudi government account then tweeted out an image of a jet heading toward a tall building in Toronto — as though the world needed a reminder that most of the 9/11 attackers hailed from Saudi Arabia and that the operation was funded by Saudi money.

In the kingdom’s defense, it later deleted the tweet and apologized for it — because Saudi rulers don’t have a problem with oppressing most of the country’s population but they’d rather not draw attention to their support for international terrorism.

While the tweet was deleted, the other over-the-top responses are still in place. Saudi Arabia kicked out Canada’s ambassador and recalled its own, canceled flights to Canada from its state airline, froze new trade and investment transactions between the countries and forced government-backed Saudis studying at Canadian universities to withdraw.

All of that simply because of this:

It’s almost as though Saudi Arabia doesn’t like it when others point out that the kingdom has a dismal human rights record.

Oh well…

But before we get to that, let’s give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman his due. On some issues, the new force in Saudi Arabia’s power structure has brought the kingdom into the 19th century. For example, women are now allowed to drive. And, as part of bin Salman’s efforts to “modernize” the country, women are permitted to attend sporting events — in a whopping three of the country’s stadiums.

In case you are wondering, the kingdom has a lot more than three stadiums — but when you’re running a misogynistic regime, you can’t really expect men to be in the vicinity of women when they want to watch a soccer game.

And those are the areas in which Saudi Arabia is making progress.

It’s looking pretty bleak in others — both domestically and internationally. In Yemen’s civil war, the Saudis are trying to flex their military muscle at the head of a coalition fighting against the Shi’a Houthi rebels. In the process, they are accused of having committed various human rights violations, and coalition airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians.

At home, Saudi Arabia is no stranger to human rights violations. In fact, it would be much easier to list the people in the kingdom who are not subject to discrimination or persecution of some kind. As a good rule of thumb, unless you are a male, straight member of the royal family, who does not speak out about human rights abuses, you should probably always feel a bit uneasy.

Here are just some highlights from Amnesty International’s most recent report on Saudi Arabia:

  • Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remains common and widespread.
  • Shi’a Muslims are discriminated against because of their faith, and their rights, including the rights to work and to access state services, may be restricted. Earlier this year, four Shi’a Muslims received a death sentence for protest-related offenses. (Speaking of the death penalty, in the midst of this row with Canada, Saudi Arabia crucified a man.)
  • Peaceful demonstrations are prohibited.
  • Although reforms may be coming in this area, women need to have the permission of a male guardian (e.g., their father, husband, brother, or son) to get a job, travel, or enroll in a university.

So here is a piece of advice (for which we would probably be arrested, stoned, tortured, and crucified if we were in Saudi Arabia): If you don’t like people pointing out that your human rights record sucks, maybe you should focus on not being a tyrannical regime instead of sanctioning countries whose leaders point out what is dismally apparent to the rest of the world.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Mohammed bin Salman caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), MSB Body (The White House / Wikimedia), howitzer (DOD), public square (Qrmoo3 / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 4.0), goose one (Randen Pederson / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), goose two (Phil Roeder / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), hand (Robert L. Knudsen / Wikimedia), and flag (National Guard).

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4 responses to “Picking Sides in Saudi Arabia’s Feud With Canada”

  1. Avatar Abdulghani Agiel says:

    Well Mrs Canada?
    You have a red line legislations that protects seniors who live on Canadian land. And Saudi Arabia has the same, which is in turn, brought Mrs. Samar Badawi to Justus and charged for not treating her senior father well. So stop accusing Saudi Arabia.
    Those who were detained actually stay in 5 stars lodging and treated well. And all other highlights are not correct, because the president of the biggest oil company and the biggest projects NEOM are Shi’at. So where is the discrimination coming from. It is from your imagination only. And women can work without taking any permission from her father as you call it. Things where changed, and you still live in memory of the ancient time Mrs. Canada.

  2. Avatar Paul Grignon says:

    In Canada the newscasters are fretting that this sudden fit of morality (of which I wholly approve!) will interfere with a massive sale of armoured attack vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Given the recent precedents, in Iraq and Libya for instance, the matching response to Saudi human rights violations would be to invade Saudi Arabia with “shock and awe” and have its leaders put to death. But of course we can’t do that to a “valuable ally”.

    If these brutal misogynistic authoritarian Saudi murderers are our protected allies then what does that make us?

  3. Avatar jacktar says:

    Well done Canada. A much needed wake-up call for a so called civilised nation. Now that you have p…d off one middle east tyrant how about spreading the news to the other so called civilised democratic entity squatting in the middle east? Guess who?

  4. Avatar Andrew Watson says:

    Thank You Canada for calling out Saudi Arabia, finally. It makes you wonder where all of the so-called civilized countries in the United Nations are? In addition, what the Saudis are doing in Yemen with the sophisticated weaponry purchased from NATO countries is truly disgusting.