Saudi Arabia has abruptly told Canada to respect the kingdom and not treat it like a banana republic adding that the latter ought to apologise to normalise the diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia had snapped all diplomatic ties with Canada in August this year by freezing new trade, blocking grain imports, expelling Canada’s ambassador and ordering all Saudi students home. This was after Ottawa called for the release of activists detained for urging more rights for women.
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir has termed the comments made by Canada ‘outrageous.’ He said, “It is outrageous from our perspective that a country will sit there and lecture us and make demands … We demand the immediate release and independence of Quebec, granting of equal rights to Canadian Indians. What on earth are you talking about?”
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Wednesday night, the Saudi foreign minister said, “You can criticise us about human rights, women’s rights … others do and that’s your right. You can sit down and talk about it, but demand the immediate release? What are we a banana republic? Would any country accept it? No! We don’t.”
“We don’t want to be a political football in Canada’s domestic politics. Find another ball to play with. It’s very easy to fix. Apologise and say you made a mistake,” al-Jubeir was quoted as saying.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, as reported by Reuters, has said that she hoped to meet with her Saudi counterpart this week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. She, however, refused to apologise and said that Canada will always stand up for human right adding that ‘we feel a particular obligation to women who are fighting for their rights around the world.’
The genesis of the controversy lies in the arrest of prominent women’s rights campaigner Samar Badawi. Her brother Raif Badawi, a prominent blogger, is already serving a 10-year sentence and has been publicly flogged for expressing dissenting opinions online. His wife and children live in Canada and are Canadian citizens.