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Recently, a diplomatic scandal erupted in the relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada expressed concern about the arrests in the kingdom of social activists and activists in the field of protecting women's rights, including human rights defender Samar Badawi, and demanded immediate release. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued similar statements. Badawi participated in the campaign for allowing Saudi women to drive. In 2012, the US State Department awarded her a prize for her contribution to the development of women's rights. Last week law enforcement officers of Saudi Arabia arrested Badawi. Since 2012, her brother blogger Raif Badawi is kept in a prison for criticizing the ruling regime. He was sentenced to a thousand lashes (in 2015 he received 50 lashes). Since May 2018, the Government of Saudi Arabia has strengthened the persecution of human rights defenders. In a few months, 15 activists were arrested.
Official Riyadh walks into the situation all flash and fire. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia called the statements of Canadian colleagues an insult that deserves a harsh response, an act of interference in internal affairs and violation of the sovereignty of the kingdom. Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak was declared persona non grata, and he was given a day to leave the country. Saudi Arabia froze all new trade and investment agreements with the Canadian counterparties. Since August 13, Saudi Arabian state airlines cancel the transport links with Toronto. It is planned to transfer 7 thousand Saudi students, participants in state scholarship programs from Canadian universities to universities in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The anti-Canadian actions of the Saudis were supported by Bahrain. However, even after the response of Saudi Arabia, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland stressed that her country will still protect human rights throughout the world.
The problem of observing human rights in Saudi Arabia has already been raised more than once. The non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch presents Saudi Arabia as one of the most problematic countries in the sphere of observance of human rights. In April, the German government considered the possibility of imposing a ban on the supply of arms to Saudi Arabia because of the human rights violations. Last year, US Secretary of State Nikki Haley said that the United States does not support Saudi Arabia when it comes to respecting human rights. Saudi Arabia is an important military-political and trade-economic partner, a major supplier of oil and a buyer of American weapons.
Freeland did not say something new when once again stating about a violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia. This is how it used to be and will be in this Middle Eastern country due to its religious and mental specifics. Saudi Arabia is a secular monarchy. However, the Constitution states that the kingdom is an Islamic state that protects human rights in accordance with the Sharia. Sunni Islam, especially its radical socio-political current of Wahhabism, plays an important role in the way of life of local society. Wahhabism is also professed by Islamic extremists of the North Caucasus, terrorist organizations Al-Qaeda, and ISIS.
Saudi citizens were the majority of hijackers during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Former leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, field commander Amir Khattab, who took part in the second Chechen war, were originally from the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal country where there has never been equality between men and women. There is a system of male guardianship: a woman must get permission from her husband, brother and even her son to go abroad, get a passport, get married or solve some other questions. Physical punishment, including lashes, and even the death penalty by cutting off the head are practiced there. Last year 50 people were executed this way. Punitive measures are applied for intimate relationships outside marriage. Religious minorities of Shiites and Ismailis in the sphere of education, the judiciary, and the labor market are discriminated against in the country. Even labor migrants have limited rights. Saudi employers can take their passports from them, force them to work against their will. Before returning home, the migrant worker must obtain permission from the employer.
The authorities are conducting an information campaign to discredit human rights defenders, presenting them as traitors and a threat to national security. The Badawi family are not the only activists who were imprisoned. In 2014, the court has sentenced activist Waleed Abu al-Khair to a 15-year prison term for criticizing human rights abuses in the kingdom. Last year, almost all the participants of the Saudi Civil Political Association for the Protection of Human Rights were behind bars. In January of 2018, for eight years, oppositionist Nadir Al-Majid was imprisoned for participating in the 2011 protests against discrimination against the Shiite religious minority, for communicating with the foreign press and human rights organizations. Co-founder of the Al-Adah human rights center, Nassim al-Sadah, was recently arrested.
Saudi Arabia can be compared only with Shiite Iran, which is also subject to criticism from human rights advocates, where Sharia law and opposition are pursued. However, the lack of democracy is perceived by the habitually significant part of the local population. About 94.4% of the Saudis support the modern course in the political and socio-economic spheres. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed are pursuing a course to develop high-tech, alternative oil production industries and want to make Saudi Arabia an open economy for Western capital. Dissidents are a minority in Saudi society.
There is nothing surprising that Canada is one of the most active countries that talk about violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia. Since the end of the Second World War, Canada has established the image of the peacemaker country, the abode of liberalism and multiculturalism, a society free of discrimination. Canadians were among the first to approve humanitarian intervention - the use of military force in the territory of a sovereign state for the protection of people in the event of large-scale violations of human rights. Since the 50s, Canada has sent more than 120,000 of its military to various parts of the world to participate in UN peacekeeping operations. In 1962, human rights were enshrined as one of the priorities of Canada's foreign policy. Canada promotes respect for and observance of human rights in the world, cooperating with other governments, international organizations, the private sector, individuals, including human rights defenders. Criticism of violations of women's rights in Saudi Arabia fully fits into the humanitarian priorities of Canada's foreign policy.
Although the enforcement of Saudi Arabia's human rights is contrary to the interests of the Canadian business. Freezing new contracts by Riyadh will negatively affect bilateral trade. Last year, the trade between Canada and Saudi Arabia amounted to $ 3 billion. Since 2006, Saudi Arabia has invested $ 6 billion in the Canadian economy. Tanks, armored personnel carriers, spare parts, vehicles accounted for 45% of Canada's exports to Saudi Arabia. Canada imports oil and copper ore from Saudi Arabia.
There is an opinion that Canadians protect human rights abroad on the basis of rational calculation and personal interests. For some reason, Freeland talked about the violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia precisely in the context of the United States' rapprochement with the kingdom and a cold snap in relations with NATO allies, including Canada. Canadians do not support the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate protection, from a nuclear deal with Iran, a policy of protectionism and a toughening of the migration regime. At the G7 summit, the US president accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of imposing 270 percent duties on American dairy products, he promised to take retaliatory measures. Trump is dissatisfied with the fact that Canada spends less than 2% of GDP on defense within NATO. The Canadian military believes that until 2024 the country's military expenditures will amount to only 1.4% of GDP. Canadians are annoyed that the Americans are demanding from them and Europeans to increase defense spending and do not want to pay attention to NATO, but at the same time are going to create a new military-political bloc in the Middle East together with Saudi Arabia.
In May 2018, Trump and Crown Prince Mohammad have discussed the prospects for the establishment of the MESA (Middle East Strategic Alliance) and the conclusion of new arms contracts worth $ 350 billion over the next 10 years. The United States is going to supply anti-missile systems, warships, and missiles to the countries of the region. The Americans want to create an analog of NATO in the Middle East to deter Iran's regional expansion. In addition to the United States and Saudi Arabia, other countries of the Persian Gulf, Egypt and Jordan can become MESA members. In more detail, this idea will be discussed in October in Washington at the level of the heads of state and government of the possible participating countries. The US is compelled to take such a step because they could not find support among other NATO member states on the issue of withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran.
Canada uses a demarche against Saudi Arabia, trying to shed light on the US's double standards. Say, the States withdraw from NATO, get out of a nuclear deal with Iran, which is accused of violating human rights and sponsoring terrorism, but at the same time, it creates a military bloc with Saudi Arabia, where the situation in the humanitarian sphere is not that better. Ottawa spoils Washington's atmosphere on the eve of the meeting on the creation of MESA. Canadians want to demonstrate that the White House is turning a blind eye to the violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia for its own interests.