Saudi Arabia is showing no signs of backing down from its economic, diplomatic and cultural embargo against Canada. While Canada has severely breached diplomatic protocol when the country’s Foreign Minister took to Twitter to criticise Saudi Arabia’s internal judicial proceedings in what amounted to a vainglorious attempt to virtue signal to the domestic base of the ruling Canadian Liberal party, Saudi Arabia’s response has caught many off guard.
Saudi Arabia has cut off all investment ties with Canada, has recalled its Ambassador to Ottawa, expelled Canada’s ambassador to Riyadh and has asked all Saudi nationals who are students in Canada to leave the country as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has received statements of support from multiple Arab nations in respect of its stern response to Canada’s attempt to meddle in its domestic affairs while official Saudi media has offered the wider world a barrage of multi-lingual anti-Canadian social media posts.
While Saudi Arabia, like every other nation has every right to robustly defend its domestic interests against foreign meddling, a fact backed not only by Riyadh’s Arab allies but also by the Russian superpower, many nevertheless continue to question why Saudi Arabia has offered such a severe reaction to Canada – a nation that is not of substantial importance to Riyadh.
Geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko recently postulated that Saudi Arabia is acting against Canada with the private blessing of a Trump White House that has exceptionally good relations with the current Saudi leadership (even by American standards) and seeks to break Canada’s will in the context of the inter-NAFTA trade war. This has been compounded by the fact that Donald Trump has a personally negative opinion on Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau. This has all lead to the incredibly probable inference that Saudi Arabia is acting at minimum with permission from the US and is quite possibly even being encouraged in its anti-Canadian policies by Washington.
But there is a further element to the new anti-Canadian policies from Riyadh that goes well beyond the specific dispute with Canada. While the US remains Saudi Arabia’s closest traditional (key word) partner, the United Kingdom is Saudi Arabia’s second most important traditional partner. While neither American nor Britain are as overtly excited about infrastructural development in Saudi Arabia nor in helping the country to diversify its geo-economic portfolio as are Saudi Arabia’s Russian and Chinese partners, Britain remains a major seller of arms to Riyadh while Saudi Arabia has billions worth of investment in British capital and property markets.
While the current UK government is on excellent terms with Riyadh, Britain’s main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is known for his stridently anti-Saudi views. Corbyn has repeatedly called for restrictions on the sale of British arms to Riyadh, has criticised the country’s military and domestic policies within the UK Parliament and has even hinted at confiscating unoccupied property in London in order to house the poor. As Saudi businessmen are owners of a substantial share of this property, this can also be seen as a threat to Saudi Arabia’s business interests in Britain.
With the current UK government losing popularity and stability at a rapid pace, there is a very real possibility that either late this year or early next year, Britain could see its first ever overtly anti-Saudi head of government. Such a reality could threaten decades of bilateral economic relations between the two countries and this is clearly something that both worries and angers Riyadh.
Against this background, it is looking as though Riyadh is using Canada as a test case in order to make an example of a nation that openly criticises its internal affairs. While few in Saudi Arabia or Canada will be significantly impacted by Riyadh’s abrupt cutting off of economic ties with Canada, if the same situation transpired between Riyadh and London, many businesses and powerful individuals on both sides would be deeply effected.
While Saudi Arabia took even more severe measures against neighbouring Qatar in 2017, by cutting off ties with Canada in an abrupt and holistic manner, the message to Britain is clear. If Saudi Arabia is willing to give the “Qatar treatment” to a western country that is politically and culturally similar to Britain, it could do the same with Britain if a would-be Jeremy Corbyn led government decided to change the status quo in Anglo-Saudi relations.
Because of this, both the current UK government and the opposition ought to consider their future positions knowing that Saudi Arabia is not afraid to do to western nations what it continues to do in respect of Qatar.