“Expelling an ambassador over criticism of human-rights issues is the worst thing you can do,” a Gulf-based diplomat said. “It confirms prejudices about Saudi Arabia that exist among businessmen in Europe, for instance, while helping investors from countries where business comes first and that aren’t too concerned about human rights issues.”Saudi Arabia’s freeze on trade with Canada isn’t expected to affect the Canadian economy. Two-way trade between the countries was relatively small, totaling roughly 4 billion Canadian dollars (US$3.08 billion) in 2017, according to Canadian government data. Saudi Arabia accounts for just 0.24% of Canadian exports in 2016, according to the latest World Bank data.
Led by the young and very brash Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman… this latest move is yet another red line that is being used to rile up nationalists and assert Saudi dominance. Expelling a Canadian ambassador is in keeping with the moves of a crown prince who allegedly took the Lebanese prime minister hostage, rounded up 200 of the most influential and richest Saudis and detained them until they paid part of their fortune back to the Saudi national accounts, and created a diplomatic firestorm with tiny neighbouring Qatar for not toeing the Saudi line on regional affairs.
Picking on Canada, which is not one of Saudi Arabia’s most important allies, is a relatively low-cost way for Riyadh to send a message to the West as a whole. That message, according to [Thomas] Juneau, [a professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in Middle Eastern affairs] is this: “We do not tolerate criticism of our domestic affairs. If you do criticize, you will be severely penalized.” Juneau argued that this is of a piece with MbS’s broader modus operandi, which involves implementing some reforms while exerting tight control over the process. “When he locks up women’s rights activists at the same time that he’s allowing women to drive—that’s not incoherent. It’s perfectly coherent. That’s his way of saying: I am reforming socially, but you guys, you civil society, don’t get any big ideas.”
“We are aware of Government of Saudi Arabia’s statement recalling the Saudi ambassador to Canada and expelling Canada’s ambassador,” a State Department official wrote in an email Monday afternoon. “Canada and Saudi Arabia are both close allies of the United States. I refer you to the Canadian and Saudi Ministries of Foreign Affairs for further information.”
Saudi Arabia is not, in fact, a treaty ally of the United States ― though Canada, a member of NATO, is.