Saudi Arabia freezes trade relations with Canada

raif badawi canada saudi arabia
Raif Badawi has been languishing in a Saudi jail. Here a 2015 demonstration in Helsinki.

Saudi Arabia has frozen its trade relations and investments with Canada following the latter’s call to release Samar Badawi, an anti-government activist from prison. The Kingdom has also declared the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh as ‘persona non grata’ and has given him 24 hours to leave the country. Riyadh has also recalled its ambassador to Canada for consultations while stressing that it retains the right to take further action.

The developments come in the wake of what Riyadh described as Canada’s “blatant and unacceptable interference” in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs, said the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Saudi Arabia’s severing its trade relations with Canada has found support from the Kingdom’s neighbor – Bahrain, which stated it stood with Riyadh and rejected Canada’s interference in the Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs, said Bahrain’s foreign ministry.

Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was “made aware of the statement by the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Embassy in the Kingdom on the so-called civil society activists who have been detained and that urged the Saudi authorities to release them immediately.”

The unease in the breaking of trade relations is to be seen in the context of the Saudi Press Agency’s (SPA) report that the “negative and surprising statement by Canada lacked credibility and was not based on genuine information or facts.”

“The Canadian statement is a blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs and violated basic international norms and all protocols between states. It is also a major and unacceptable affront to the Kingdom’s laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the Kingdom’s sovereignty. Throughout its long history, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has never accepted, and will never tolerate, any interference in its domestic affairs or any dictation from any country. The Kingdom views the Canadian position as an affront to the Kingdom that requires a firm stance to prevent anyone from attempting to undermine the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia.”

Giving further details as what necessitated the breaking of diplomatic ties and trade relations, SPA’s statement further said, “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while expressing its absolute and categorical rejection of the Canadian stand regarding this matter, confirms its commitment to non-interference in the internal matters of other countries, including Canada, and in return categorically rejects any interference in its domestic affairs and internal relations with its citizens.”

“Any further step from the Canadians in this direction will mean that we are allowed to interfere in Canada’s internal affairs. Canada and all other nations should be well aware that they cannot be more concerned about Saudi citizens than Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia recalls the Ambassador of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to Canada for consultations and considers the Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia as persona non grata who must leave the kingdom within the next 24 hours. The kingdom also puts on hold all new commercial and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action,” the ministry said.

As a step towards normalizing diplomatic and trade relations, Canada said it is “seeking greater clarity” on the matter, said Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman.

Last week, the Canadian embassy in Riyadh criticized the arrests of Raif Badawi, a Canadian citizen whose brother, a blogger who was critical of the Saudi Government, has been languishing in a Saudi jail.

“The rupture in Saudi diplomatic relations with Canada underscores how the ‘new’ Saudi Arabia that Mohammad Bin Salman is putting together is in absolutely no mood to tolerate any form of criticism of its handling of its domestic affairs,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Texas.