Saudi Arabia fights with Canada while the US allies with Al Qaeda

In news you may have missed, the government of Saudi Arabia has over-reacted spectacularly to a criticism made by the Canadian foreign minister. What would normally have resulted in calling in the Canadian ambassador to deliver a reprimand has instead resulted in him being immediately expelled. And there was more, as Mehdi Hasan explains.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia (over)reacted to a single tweet from the Canadian foreign ministry. The tweet called on the Saudis to “immediately release” imprisoned activist Samar Badawi, sister of Raif, as well as “all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” The Saudi foreign ministry lambasted the Canadians for an “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable” statement, announced the “freezing of all new trade and investment transactions” with Canada, demanding the Canadian ambassador leave the country “within the next 24 hours.”

And Saudi Arabia was just getting started. On Monday, the kingdom escalated the row by suspending scholarships “for about 16,000 Saudi students” studying in Canada, the Toronto Star reported, “and ordered them to attend schools elsewhere.”

This move was probably ordered by the newly-powerful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who is supposedly a bosom buddy of Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. That may explain why the White House was has said they would be neutral in its response to this flap, saying that “Canada and Saudi Arabia are both close allies of the United States.” even though Canada is arguably the closest ally the US has, both geographically and politically, while most of the 9/11 attackers and Osama bin Laden were Saudi Arabians. Aa Hasan says,

Sorry, what? “Both close allies”? Is Canada working with Al Qaeda in Yemen? Cutting deals with, and recruiting fighters from, the group behind the attack on the Twin Towers? And, while we’re on the subject of Al Qaeda, how many of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Canadians?

To quote Sen. Bernie Sanders, when he sat down to talk foreign policy with me last September, “Do I consider [the Saudis] an ally? I consider them to be an undemocratic country that has supported terrorism around the world, it has funded terrorism, so I can’t. … No, they are not an ally of the United States.”

While the US is distancing itself from long-term allies like Canada, it is in a tacit alliance with (wait for it) Al Qaeda, through the proxy of Saudi Arabia.

Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West.

Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot.

That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.

These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.

No doubt the Saudis, one of the worst regimes in the world but huge purchasers of weapons from the US, Canada and other western nations with which they brutalize their own people as well as those in Yemen and elsewhere, feel that these purchases give them enough leverage with governments to react like this, and to further entangle the US in its crimes.

Anyway, the ball is now in Canada’s court. Will they swallow their pride and backtrack to appease the Saudi regime? Or will they heed their own people who dislike this close alliance?


  1. says

    The government is in a no-win situation. If they backtrack, all the Trudeau haters will jump on him as weak and spineless. If they don’t, all the Trudeau haters will jump on him for the jobs this will cost.

    Unfortunately our socialist healthcare system can’t treat Trudeau Derangement Syndrome.

  2. Dunc says

    What gives the Saudis their leverage is not their purchases of armaments, it’s their oil exports. Remember the OPEC Oil Embargo in 1973? You know, when gasoline was rationed, and US inflation quadrupled practically overnight and remained above 10% for the rest of the decade? Global oil supply is still finely enough balanced that the Saudis could bring the world economy to its knees in a matter of weeks (if not days).

    As for the US being in a tacit alliance with al-Qaida, this is also the case in Syria, where Tahrir al-Sham (aka al-Qaida in Syria) is one of the major rebel factions.

  3. Mano Singham says


    The problem with oil is that it is a blunt weapon. It cannot be targeted at specific nations since, as far as I know, it is a global market. The Saudis can cut production and thus raise prices but that will affect everyone, even their best buddy the US, not just Canada. But they can choose to purchase stuff from selected countries.

    Somebody more knowledgeable on oil economics can perhaps chime in.

  4. Dunc says

    It’s a fairly blunt weapon, yes, but it would affect economies in proportion to the amount of oil they use -- and the fact that the US comes top of that list by quite some margin is why they’re backing the Saudis here.

  5. says

    Messing with oil prices wouldn’t have the intended punitive effect on Canada anyway. Canada is a net exporter of oil, mostly to China and the USA.

  6. says

    What would normally have resulted in calling in the Canadian ambassador to deliver a reprimand has instead resulted in him being immediately expelled.

    Normally, expelling an ambassador is what you do before you declare war. Send ’em home with an ultimatum.

    I hope this does not increase a push for the tar sands but I suspect that’s what’s really driving all this anyway.

  7. Glor says

    Normally, expelling an ambassador is what you do before you declare war. Send ’em home with an ultimatum.

    Eh, it’s also the diplomatic equivalent of yelling “fuck you” at another country, Often followed by that country yelling back in the same way.

  8. mnb0 says

    @Dunc: I don’t know about the USA and the rest of the world, but for the EU oil imports Saudi Arabia only comes at 4th place, after Russia, Norway and Nigeria. Total imports amount to 55% -- the rest stems from the EU countries UK (still), Denmark, Italy and Rumania. Overall the EU depends for about 5% of its oil on Saudi Arabia

    Exactly because of the 1973 crisis (which in the end hardly was one -- there never was a substantial threat of shortage in The Netherlands) the EU has decreased its depency on Saudi Arabia.

  9. Dunc says

    mnbo: Yes, but since oil is fungible, it doesn’t matter whether we import oil directly from Saudi Arabia or not. If they cut production, global oil prices spike and the world economy starts coming apart at the seams.

  10. fentex says

    The Saudis can cut production and thus raise prices but that will affect everyone, even their best buddy the US, not just Canada.

    No they can’t, as they found out the last time they tried. The world has changed and is not dominated by a united OPEC as it was in the 1970s. While a lot of the worlds reserves are in the mid-east it’s current production isn’t.

    And Saudi Arabia can’t afford to anyway -- they need income, they can’t afford to cut production without certainty in price rises.

    The world is in a horrible place with bullies and thugs trying to take it back to a 19th Century norm of might is right, they risk another stupid pointless war like WW1 and for exactly the same iditoic reasons of pride and prestige -- and people elect them because their grandparents, who fought WW2, have died and aren’t around to tell them to stop being stupid.

  11. blf says

    I suspect [tar sands are] what’s really driving all this anyway

    We appear to have a broken conspiracy detector here. Canada issues a mild public criticism regarding people including the husband of a Canadian citizen, which results in Saudi Arabia’s expelling of the Canada’s ambassador, suspension of flights, withdrawal of students & medical patients, and various threats. All part of a grand Canadian plot to sell more tar sands, or perhaps a Saudi plot to sabotage such sales. I think the face on Mars can be fitted in as well, and probably also the Illuminati.

    People who have some idea what they are talking about are putting the blame squarely on MbS, the feudal authoritarian owner of Saudi Arabia. Broadly, he’s upset at criticism in the Canadian press of an arms deal, frustrated that few of his other plots have worked (the blockade of Qatar, the invasion of Yemen, …), is an absolute feudal ruler to whom no-one can say “No”, is young and inexperienced, “thinks” he has Trump’s backing (and possibly does), and may be running out of money to bribe his subjects.

    As Saudi Arabia is using Canada to send a message, analysts say puts it:

    [… Director of the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Nader] Hashemi said the root cause of the diplomatic crisis with Canada is [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed] bin Salman himself.

    The crown prince, commonly referred to as MBS, “is drunk on power and arrogant and suffers from a deep dose of youthful naivete and believes that he has Donald Trump in his back pocket and can do whatever he wants”, Hashemi told Al Jazeera.

    Since coming to power in 2015, MBS has sought to be portrayed as a reformist at home, while at the same time instituting more aggressive policies abroad.

    He has been accused of being the “architect” of the devastating war in Yemen that has led to a humanitarian crisis, enforced a blockade of Qatar, detained dozens of members of the Saudi royal family, and confined and reportedly forced Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign.

    The conflict with Canada is bin Salman’s way of establishing new rules for how countries deal with Saudi Arabia, Hashemi said.


    Canada’s comments were not particularly out of the ordinary, said Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who specialises in Middle East politics.

    Instead, the tweets should be seen as “the spark that lit the fire” on already simmering Saudi frustration with Canada, Juneau told Al Jazeera.

    That’s due in large part to the debate around an $11bn ($15bn Canadian) weapons deal with the Saudis, which, though conceived and approved by his predecessor, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government quietly signed off on in 2016.

    Trudeau has been forced to defend the agreement ever since, amid unrelenting questions from Canadian human rights groups and media about how the Saudi authorities plan to use the light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) Canada will supply.

    For the Saudis, that negative coverage — and the Canadian government not forcefully coming to their defence — caused “building frustration and irritation” over the last two years, Juneau said.


    How Canada will handle the dispute going forward remains unclear, said Juneau […], though he said he would be surprised to see bin Salman deescalate the situation any time soon.

    “I’m not optimistic that things will change soon, simply because MBS has been so not willing to walk back from his assertive gestures, whether it’s Yemen, or Qatar, or others,” Juneau said.

    That was echoed by Hashemi, who said it will only be resolved if Canada or Saudi Arabia backs down, which appears unlikely.

    “If Canada backs down, then it’s no longer the liberal democracy that it claims to be”, he said.


    MBS has a lot invested in the situation already, Hashemi said, and he hopes “he can prevail here so that other countries will think twice before they criticise his policies”.


  12. jrkrideau says

    This strikes home for me.
    I had minor plastic surgery a few months ago. The surgeon was the normal arrogant bastard.

    His resident, a young man from Riyadh, was, well I cannot think of a better word than “charming”. He explained the procedure, discussed care after the procedure and was overall most helpful. And he was not even a plastic surgeon. He was an orthopedic surgeon on rotation.

    I am really worried that his funding may be in danger. He is far too good a doctor for us or Saudi Arabia to lose.

  13. KG says

    There’s another problem for the Saudis in using the “oil weapon”: they need the money from their exports. Reducing supply pushes up prices, but if it’s just Saudi supplies that fall, it will be other oil-exporting countries (including Iran and Canada) that benefit.

  14. Dunc says

    The Saudis demonstrated just in the last couple of years that they’re prepared to restrict production to push up prices, so it’s not exactly a controversial idea. The reason oil is now back up around $70/bbl after spending years down around $30/bbl is largely down to Saudi output restrictions. And it’s an even more pressing matter now, with Trump recently asking MbS to increase Saudi production by up to 2 million bbl/day (from a baseline of 7 million bbl/day) to offset the reduced exports from Iran and Venezuela.

  15. aashiq says

    MBS is a vain egotistical child, easily manipulated: reminds me of some the the princes the British installed in India, to further their “divide and rule” strategy. And, that’s exactly what he is doing, in helping to further disrupt his neighborhood.

    This is why he is Kushner’s best bud, and Netanyahu’s chum.

  16. says

    I’m going to quietly hope that the Saudi tantrums WILL affect Canada, in terms of making it easy fo us to cut ties with the oppressive bastards, and increasing the ambient economic pressure to move to green energy.

  17. ardipithecus says

    Tempest in a teapot.

    The Saudis are still selling us oil, and, so far, are still buying arms. The only real impact will be from the 15,000 students being recalled to Saudi Arabia. That will cost Canadian universities some money, but in the tens of millions range, which can easily be mitigated if the governments choose to.

    In a way, it is fortunate that they chose Canada to make a show of blackmail to. The economic ties are limited, compared to other western liberal democracies, so it will be easier for us to stand up to them than for the EU or UK for instance.

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