Saudi-Canada row rattles investors
August 9, 2018 -- The row between Saudi Arabia and Canada over human rights threatens to undermine Riyadh’s drive for foreign direct investment (FDI), with impulsive policies raising questions about financial security.
A tweet sent last Thursday by Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, calling for the release from prison of Samar Badawi, a human rights activist and her brother, Raif, a blogger who ridiculed the Saudi monarchy -- for amongst other things banning Valentine’s Day -- precipitated fury in Riyadh.
The desert kingdom expelled the Canadian Ambassador, recalled its envoy, froze all new trade and investment, suspended flights by the state airline to Toronto, and ordered 15,000 Saudi students to leave Canada and continue their education elsewhere.
Raif Badawi’s sentence of ten years in prison and a thousand lashes has been described by Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, as “medieval.”
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported in June that FDI into Saudi Arabia last year amounted to just $1.42 billion, down from $8.14bn in 2015, when Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) became defence minister at the age of only 29.
The Canadian campaign is the latest in a series of disastrous foreign-policy initiatives by MbS -- from the military intervention in Yemen to the air, sea, and land blockade of neighbouring Qatar. MbS also summoned Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, to Riyadh and forced him to resign on Saudi television.
MbS’ strategy of outrage may be to challenge nations that back calls for an international UN investigation of alleged Saudi-led war crimes in Yemen. The UN General Assembly opens next month in New York.