So, is Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (M.B.S.) really as hotheaded and incompetent as some analysts are saying these days?
The less-than-complimentary views are being voiced in light of his seemingly over-the-top reaction (read: fury) and response (read: way out of proportion) to a tweet by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland — a woman — deploring the arrest in Saudi Arabia of a women’s-rights activist who had been honoured by the Obama administration. The activist, Samar Badawi, is the sister of Raif Badawi, “a blogger who has been imprisoned since 2012 after chastising the Saudi monarchy for things like banning Valentine’s Day,” as the New Yorker puts it in an article with the headline Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince picks a very strange fight with Canada.
Raif’s wife is a Canadian citizen residing in Quebec, and Canada has been calling for his release since he was imprisoned. He was also sentenced to receive 1,000 lashes and “fined more than a quarter million dollars for mocking the kingdom’s rigid social restrictions on his Saudi Liberal Network Web site.”
Here is the tweet — from a woman, I remind you — that supposedly has the prince upset enough to sever ties with Canada and pass up investment opportunities in the nation:
This week in response to Freeland’s tweet, the prince expelled Canada’s ambassador — who was actually on vacation in Toronto (Canada) — and recalled Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada. He also ordered Saudi students studying in Canada to leave the country, froze trade with Canada, stopped Saudi airlines from flying to Canada, and reportedly has ordered the selloff of all Saudi assets in Canada — unless Canadian PM Justin Trudeau grovels in an apology for Freeland’s tweet and promises not to comment on the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia again.
Trudeau said, essentially, no way.
So, is it all this superficial? Or is there something deeper and more sinister going on here. Is former Conservative leader/prime minister Stephen Harper part of some conspiracy plot — with Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia — to undermine Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in a bid to reclaim the top political job in Canada? Is Donald Trump using this to bring Canada to its knees in the NAFTA talks? Is Justin Trudeau using this incident and his differences with Trump to win votes in next year’s federal election?
Or is it simply a warning shot by the Crown prince to all nations, essentially saying “keep your mouths shut about out internal affairs and about our actions in Yemen and elsewhere.”
All of the above — and more — are conspiracy theories being floated out there. Few really believe the prince is cutting Saudi Arabia off from Canada over a harmless tweet it could have simply ignored.
I subscribe to the latter theory, though I have no doubt that Trump was advised beforehand of what the Saudis were going to do to Canada and that the U.S. president takes some pleasure in seeing Justin Trudeau squirm. It’s no secret that Trump and Trudeau are not the best of buddies. And I am curious about what role, if any, Harper may have had in all of this amid reports that he has visited both Washington and Saudi Arabia in the past month or two. Hmm . . .
But I think Robin Wright, a contributing writer to the New Yorker (link above), may have nailed it with this:
M.B.S.’s motive may also be part of a strategy to challenge nations that advocate a U.N.-led inquiry into Saudi abuses in Yemen, including air strikes that killed civilians. “Timing of Saudi crown prince’s lashing out at Canada for protesting his repression suggests his real aim is to dissuade governments next month from continuing the UN investigation of Saudi-led war crimes in Yemen,” Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted, on Tuesday. “Time to redouble support for the UN probe.” The U.N. General Assembly, attended by dozens of heads of state, opens next month in New York.
So, the Saudi leader is flexing his bank book and picking on one of the most harmless nations on Planet Earth, essentially saying that if he is willing to do this to Canada for a simple tweet, imagine what he could do to other nations who call out his country’s poor human-rights record and atrocities in Yemen and elsewhere.
The financial repercussions to Canada are minimal, reports say. And no doubt the financial repercussions to Saudi Arabia are minimal, too. The biggest winners in this could be the businesspeople who scoop up the Saudi assets in Canada reportedly ordered by the prince to be sold “at all costs.” There could be some bargains as the Saudis make their exit from Canada.
But is there a more sinister plot unfolding?
After the Crown prince reacted in anger to the Canadian tweet, a Twitter tweet alleged to have been made by a Saudi group appeared to threaten Canada with a 911 type of incident. The tweet was later removed. There were also reminders that citizens of Saudi Arabia formed the majority of the 911 attackers. And there were reminders of Donald Trump’s links to Saudi Arabia.
So, what should Canada expect? A ‘terrorist’ attack? An invasion?
Are there forces seeking to bring Canada to its knees? Are the country’s resources — minerals, oil, lumber, water etc. — seen as the spoils of an invasion? Will Canada soon be part of the United States, which in turn is largely funded by Saudi investments?
Nothing would surprise me in the Age of Donald Trump (and Steve Bannon).
Or maybe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman really is an immature and incompetent hothead with equally incompetent advisers.
But I don’t think so. It’s much deeper than it appears. And probably much darker.
The game’s afoot, as Sherlock Holmes would say . . .