Thursday, August 16, 2018

That Saudi vs. Canada Thing

Okay, it's been around two weeks since the Saudi Government became incensed about a tweet from Canada's Foreign Minister demanding the release of two human rights activists, who are siblings, from Saudi jails. The wife of one of those jailed fled with the family to Canada where they were granted asylum and eventually citizenship so Canada does have some stake in this given the husband and sister-in-law of a Canadian family are in a Saudi jail.

I don't know if things have calmed down on the Saudi side but I've just reviewed a few Canadian news websites and there is barely a mention of the spat now.

The incident did generate a lot of interest from Qataris though, and every day for the first week or so at least one Qatari, usually more than one, was asking me questions about it. With Qatar still under a blockade that started 14 months ago, the Canada-Saudi thing had Qataris basically saying "There they go again."  One Qatari said that Canada was now "in the club" of countries facing Saudi hostility. I don't think it's really on the same level as what Qatar is facing right now. Trade and interactions between Saudi and Canada is pretty limited so there is not a lot of damage that this could cause, unlike the Qatar blockade.

When the blockade happened it was a big deal, pretty much the only thing on everyone's mind for a couple of months. The country had to quickly reroute aircraft and shipping lanes, do a lot of diplomatic legwork to gather allies, and the population were left with an uncertainty of where this was all headed. Would there be an invasion? Would the embassies call and tell their citizens to clear out? As for the recent incident, in Canada the initial reaction to the Saudi reaction was, "Huh!?" followed by sentiments ranging from "Good on Canada" for standing by its statements to ""Meh, whatever." Some Qataris were a bit surprised at this but I knew that was how the Canadian populace would react given the two countries do not have deep ties. The Saudis stopping their flights and demanding their citizens leave Canada was met with confusion and "Ummmm . . . okay I guess, if that's what you want. Bye."  Canada has pretty much moved on now, and within a month's time most Canadians will have probably forgotten about it.

Qataris however did follow the events with a mix of sympathy and amusement. While diplomatic relations between Qatar and the blockading countries was frozen on media and social media there was a lot of mudslinging and rhetoric. Some of the stuff said about Qatar was ludicrous (digging a canal to turn Qatar into an island, for example). So with the Canada thing some enterprising Qatari started a twitter account where he took some of that mudslinging and changed "Qatar" to "Canada" just to show how ridiculous it was. Some of the stuff I read (or had read to me because it was in Arabic) was pretty funny. Others joined in and soon the account was filled with satirical pictures and phrases from the time of the blockade.

Will the dispute end soon? Well if the Qatar blockade is anything to go by then the answer is no. Saudi Arabia has even less incentive to mellow its position with Canada than it does with Qatar so I doubt there'll be a diplomatic breakthrough anytime soon. Not that Canada has much incentive either, and Canada's Foreign Minister nor the Prime Minister have backed down on the tweet and reiterated that they stand by the comment.

As for retaliation I don't think Canada will do anything. I mean, what are they supposed to do, cut ties? Stop trade? Kick out Saudi citizens? The Saudis are already doing that to themselves! There isn't really much left for Canada to do to retaliate. Maybe we can send Nickelback over to do some concerts. [just a joke, actually I like Nickelback, not sure why the internet hates on them so much.]

Anyway, as John Oliver recently noted during his show, Canadians not apologizing for something is a pretty big deal. :)