The Irish Times view on the Saudi-Canadian row: Stand with Ottawa

The crown prince’s absurd over-reaction underlines his thin skin and authoritarian streak

Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Ottawa and frozen trade with Canada after mild criticism of his human rights record by Justin Trudeau’s government. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Ottawa and frozen trade with Canada after mild criticism of his human rights record by Justin Trudeau’s government. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

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In his drive to shake the Saudi economy out of its oil-dependent torpor while simultaneously initiating tentative social liberalisation and cracking down on internal dissent, the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has shown himself to be an impatient, impulsive leader. His failures in foreign policy, in particular the disastrous military campaign in Yemen and the botched attempt to isolate Qatar, have revealed an alarming mix of aggression and poor judgment. Now, with Riyadh’s absurd over-reaction to mild Canadian criticism of its human rights record, we can see that the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia is also exceptionally thin-skinned.

Riyadh has recalled its ambassador to Ottawa, barred Canada’s envoy from returning, frozen trade and apparently begun selling Canadian assets in response to a call from the Canadian foreign minister for the release of Raif and Samar Badawi, rights activists who have relatives living in Canada. Riyadh has also stopped all direct flights to Canada on the state airline.

Ottawa was right to highlight the wrongful detention of these prominent activists, whose situation starkly underlines the crown prince’s authoritarian instincts and the clear limits to his campaign of social liberalisation.

In his wild over-reaction, bin Salman appears to be emboldened by his warm relationship with the Trump White House, which has been scathing of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau over trade and other issues and has been predictably silent when invited to show solidarity with Ottawa in recent days.

Ireland and the EU should stand with Canada. Dublin, which is competing with Canada for a seat on the UN security council, should put on record its support for Ottawa in the current stand-off and make clear that it will not seek Saudi Arabia’s vote in its campaign for the seat.

In his treatment of Canada, bin Salman is sending a signal to any other country that might publicly criticise his regime. Europe’s response must be a clear and resounding declaration that it won’t be intimidated.

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