‘Unacceptable’: Outrage over Saudi tweet

The since deleted tweet came from a non-profit group of Saudi youth the tweet stated: “Sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong! As the Arabic saying goes: He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him.”

It then showed a plane flying towards the Toronto skyscrapers, which drew comparisons on social media to the September 11 attacks in New York, where 15 of the attackers were Saudi citizens.

The since deleted tweet.

The since deleted tweet.Source:Twitter

The tweet was quickly deleted, but now the Saudi government has gotten involved.

In a tweet from the Saudi media account it states: “Based on a complaint filed to the ministery of Media about a post by @Infographic_ksa, the ministry has ordered the owner of the account to shut it down until investigations are completed, according to electronic broadcasting laws in KSA.”

And Fatimah Baeshen, the spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in the US said she was “horrified”.

“Totally unacceptable, regardless of the intent. Glad these kids apologised and clarified what they meant,” she tweeted.

The Twitter account behind the original tweet said the image was meant to symbolise the Canadian ambassador flying back to Canada.

Meanwhile Saudi state airline Saudia has declared it is suspending flights to and from Toronto, as its diplomatic row with Canada ramps up.

Saudia made the announcement on its official Twitter account on Monday. The move follows the kingdom’s decision to freeze new trade and investment with Canada, after Ottawa urged Riyadh to free arrested rights activists.

The kingdom also recalled its ambassador and gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country.

“Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in an extraordinarily aggressive statement. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”

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SAUDI KINGDOM’S WARNING TO THE WEST

Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador on Monday and froze “all new business” with Ottawa over its criticism of the ultraconservative kingdom’s arrest of women’s rights activists.

It’s yet another warning to the West reflecting Riyadh’s newly assertive foreign policy.

The dispute appears centred around a tweet by Global Affairs Canada, managed by the foreign ministry, calling on the kingdom to “immediately release” women’s rights activists recently detained by the kingdom.

Among those recently arrested is Samar Badawi, whose brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticising clerics. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, is now living in Canada.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted about the arrests on Thursday, expressing concern.

She also addressed the dispute in a speech in Vancouver.

“Let me very clear with everyone here and with Canadians who (are) maybe watching and listening. Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women’s rights are human rights,” she said.

The sudden and unexpected dispute bore the hallmarks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old future leader.

Analysts say the dispute between Riyadh and Ottawa shows Saudi Arabia won’t accept any outside criticism and will continue flexing its muscles abroad, especially as the kingdom enjoys a closer relationship with President Donald Trump.

“This message is obviously not just being sent to Ottawa,” said Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based risk consultancy. “It’s a message to countries across Europe and across the rest of the world that criticism of Saudi Arabia has consequences.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud.Source:AFP

The Saudi Foreign Ministry made the announcement early Monday, giving Ambassador Dennis Horak 24 hours to leave the kingdom. It wasn’t immediately clear if he was in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia said it would recall its ambassador to Canada as well.

“Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in Canadian domestic affairs,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”

Saudi state television later reported that the Education Ministry was coming up with an “urgent plan” to move thousands of Saudi scholarship students out of Canadian schools to take classes in other countries.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have publicly backed Saudi Arabia in the dispute.

The statement said the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh was continuing regular operations.

SAUDI WOMEN STILL FACE PERSECUTION

Saudi Arabia in June lifted its ban on women from driving cars — a ban Samar Badawi and other women’s rights activists have long campaigned against.

However, supporters of women’s rights were arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted, signalling that only King Salman and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed, will decide the pace of change.

Saudi women still need permission from male guardians to travel abroad or marry.

The dispute with Canada over women’s rights is part of a larger pushback against external criticism, analysts say.

It isn’t clear what new business would be affected by Saudi Arabia’s expulsion of Ottawa’s envoy. Canada receives 10 per cent of its imported crude oil from Saudi Arabia, while bilateral trade between the two nations is $3 billion a year.

Armoured tanks and personnel carriers have been Canada’s biggest recent export to the kingdom. A London, Ontario-based firm called General Dynamics Land Systems signed a $15 billion deal with Saudi Arabia in 2014 to export its light-armoured vehicles to the kingdom, the largest-ever arms deal for Canada.

Saudi Arabia in June lifted its ban on women from driving cars — but supporters of women’s rights were arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted.

Saudi Arabia in June lifted its ban on women from driving cars — but supporters of women’s rights were arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted.Source:Getty Images

It’s also not the first time Saudi Arabia has lashed out diplomatically over the Badawi case. In 2015, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden and stopped issuing work visas for Swedes after the Scandinavian country’s foreign minister described the Badawi court decision as “medieval” and the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family as presiding over a “dictatorship.”

Saudi Arabia also expelled Iran’s ambassador over attacks on its diplomatic posts following its 2016 execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Ayham Kamel, the head of the Eurasia Group’s Mideast practice, said Canada should have expected repercussions for championing the Badawis, given Crown Prince Mohammed’s assertiveness.

“The win (for the Saudis) is that everyone will get the message,” Kamel said. “This is not just to Canada’s mailbox. It is about sending a message to the entire West that you don’t get to lecture us.”

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