Have the Saudis Gone Stark Raving Mad?

The blowup with Canada is the latest Saudi overreach. Will they ever pay a price?

By Mehdi Hasan and cross-posted from The Intercept

First, they pick a fight with Canada — yeah, that Canada! Maple syrup-loving, hockey-playing, poutine-eating, liberal, multicultural Canada; the land with free health care and a prime minister who wears “Eid Mubarak” socks.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia (over)reacted to a single tweet from the Canadian foreign ministry. The tweet called on the Saudis to “immediately release” imprisoned activist Samar Badawi, sister of Raif, as well as “all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” The Saudi foreign ministry lambasted the Canadians for an “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable” statement, announced the “freezing of all new trade and investment transactions” with Canada, demanding the Canadian ambassador leave the country “within the next 24 hours.”

At the same time, Saudi trolls took to Twitter to declare their loud support for … Quebec’s independence. Who knew that an absolute Persian Gulf monarchy was so passionate about a French-speaking secessionist movement 6,000 miles away? (Hey, Canadian trolls — if you even exist — my advice would be to retaliate by offering Ottawa’s backing for independence in the restless, Shia-dominated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It’ll drive them totally nuts.)

And Saudi Arabia was just getting started. On Monday, the kingdom escalated the row by suspending scholarships “for about 16,000 Saudi students” studying in Canada, the Toronto Star reported, “and ordered them to attend schools elsewhere.” (Can you think of a better example of biting your bigoted nose to spite your intolerant face?)

Then — and this is my favorite part of this whole bizarre episode — a Saudi group put out an image on Twitter of a Canadian airliner flying directly toward Toronto’s tallest building over a warning against interfering in others’ affairs. (The Saudi group later deleted it and apologized)

Are. You. Kidding. Me?

Much has been made of the kingdom’s “increasingly assertive foreign policy” but, yet again, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known by his initials MBS, may have bitten off more than he can chew. It’s madness to try and bully a Western government, which up until Sunday was both a friend of Saudi Arabia and a major arms supplier, for offering the mildest of online criticisms of (undeniable) human rights abuses. What message does that send to Riyadh’s other Western allies, who also like to go through the motions of lightly condemning various Saudi abuses in order to appease their voters? Is the game up?…

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