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Millennium Post

Arabia's 'fight' with Canada

That relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia have hit rock bottom is both unfortunate and uncalled for. Indeed, to be advised to honour and abide by human rights should not have infuriated the Saudis. What began with a statement of concern over human rights has ballooned into the biggest diplomatic feud between the two countries. The Canadian Foreign Ministry said it was "gravely concerned" by the arrest of Saudi activist Samar Badawi and other women's rights campaigners and called for their release. Since then, the Saudi government has responded with a steady string of retaliatory measures, expelling the Canadian ambassador from Riyadh and recalling the Saudi envoy to Ottawa, suspending Saudi state airline flights to Toronto, and ending thousands of Saudi scholarship programmes in Canada. Then Saudi authorities announced they would halt all medical treatment programmes in Canada. Trade relations between the two countries have been frozen. Saudi Arabia's response has struck as a disproportionate overreaction to a relatively routine criticism of the country's human rights record. Regional analysts, however, say the Saudi reaction is consistent with Mohammed bin Salman's heavy-handed approach to power since the 32-year-old took over as Crown Prince. In the year since he was promoted to first-in-line to the throne, MBS, as he is known, has embarked on an aggressive mission to "modernise" Saudi Arabia. At home, he locked up hundreds of the country's business elite during a so-called "anti-corruption" drive and used the billions of dollars recovered to ease the pain of austerity. And while MBS has lifted the ban on women driving and opened the first new movie theatre in the country in 35 years, Saudi authorities have been cracking down hard on (predominantly women) activists. MBS has also taken a hard line abroad, instigating a bruising blockade of its tiny neighbour Qatar, picking fights with regional rival Iran and prosecuting a costly war to oust rebels from Yemen. While several Middle Eastern allies have backed up the Saudi response to Canada, the reaction from Western countries has, very curiously, been muted thus far. MBS seems emboldened by the attitude of Donald Trump who seems to have washed his hands of anything to do with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau after the last G7 meet. Trump has been reluctant to publicly criticise Saudi Arabia for its rights record. Samar Badawi, whose activist brother Raif has been behind bars since 2012 and is sentenced to receive 1,000 lashes, was arrested last week, rights groups said. Raif Badawi's wife and children were granted asylum in Canada in 2015. As matters stand, such an ugly spat must not be allowed to escalate under any circumstances.

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