‘Blatant Interference:’ Why Saudi Arabia Just Expelled Canada’s Ambassador to the Kingdom

Tensions are running high between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Canada.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced it had expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and frozen all new trade and investment transactions with the country following a perceived interference in its internal affairs.

The move followed statements made by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh last week, that were seen as critical of Saudi Arabia’s authorities. The Canadian diplomats had issued remarks of concern following the arrests of a number of women’s rights activists, including most recently Samar Badawi, a Canadian citizen whose brother, Raif Badawi, had already been jailed in the country.

Freeland expressed her alarm at Badawi’s arrest on Twitter on Friday, calling for the release of both her and her brother. These sentiments were echoed on the Foreign Policy Canada Twitter page, which was then retweeted on the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh’s Twitter page.

Saudi Arabia issued its response Monday, expressing “disbelief [at] this negative unfounded comment.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs contended that those arrested were “lawfully detained,” and accused Canada of a “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs.”

Calling such a move an “unacceptable affront” and a “violation” of the Kingdom’s sovereignty, the foreign ministry noted that it had given the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country and had also recalled its own ambassador in Ottawa.

The statement went on that the Kingdom has “never accepted any interference in its domestic affairs by, or orders from any country,” and called the Canadian position an “affront to the Kingdom that requires a sharp response.” It continued that use of the phrase “immediate release” is both “reprehensible and unacceptable,” and noted that “any further step from the Canadian side…will be considered as acknowledgement of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs.”

Canada is reportedly “seeking greater clarity” on Saudi Arabia’s statement, according to Bloomberg. Marie-Pier Baril, a spokesperson for Freeland, told the publication that Canada is “seriously concerned” with the reports. Nevertheless, “Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights,” she continued, “including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world. Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialog is critical to international diplomacy.”

Bilateral trade deals between Canada and Saudi Arabia surpassed $4 billion last year.

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