By Dil Bola
Rabat – Saudi Arabia has declared plans to withdraw funding for Saudi students in Canada after officially suspending Saudia flights to Toronto.
In response to the Canadian critique of Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record, young and ambitious Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was quick to act: expelling the Canadian ambassador and subsequently withdrawing the Saudi envoy from Ottawa.
The kingdom’s brash foreign policy moves continued as the Saudis ordered an official suspension of all Saudia, also known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, flights to Toronto on Monday, August 6, coupled with the ordered withdrawal of Saudi international students studying at Canadian universities.
Over 15,000 Saudi students currently attend Canadian universities; accompanied family members bring the number to more than 20,000 Saudis associated with universities in the country. The withdrawal would consist of these students and their hefty tuition funds being shifted to other universities in countries with similar education systems, such as the UK or the US.
Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign affairs minister, initiated the diplomatic feud after reprimanding the Saudi government’s crackdown on civil society and women’s rights activists on Twitter last Thursday, August 2.
Her statements were corroborated by Lynn Maalouf, the Amnesty International Middle East research director, who continued her support of the Canadian government with several subsequent tweets.
The Saudi foreign minister labelled the criticisms as “blatant interference” in the kingdom’s domestic affairs as the arrests were lawful and considered Freeland’s statements not only negative but “unfounded” as well.
The official Twitter account of Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by expressing their grave concerns, urging the Saudi government to “immediately release” the activists.
From then on, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began taking direct action against the country; the suspension of “all new business and investment transactions” and the expulsion of diplomats were just the beginning.
In terms of the impact on the Canadian economy, it is evident there will be a significant decline in respect to the loss of tuition and living expenses. International students attending major schools such as McGill University in Montreal can pay up to CAD 30,000 (MAD 216,587) for tuition. Adding living expenses, money spent on each student can reach up to CAD 80,000 (MAD 577,567).
What is more pressing is the controversial and incomplete CAD 12 billion arms deal permitting the export and sale of light armored vehicles equipped with machine guns and canons. The Trudeau government has been widely criticized for issuing export permits allowing Canadian corporations to pursue the deal, and the negativity had already led to a chill in Saudi-Canadian relations.
Freeland remained unapologetic in her response on each problematic aspect of the situation after the Saudis’ bold statements on Monday. She affirmed the Canadian “embassy is still in place in Saudi Arabia” and asserted Saudi Arabia’s education decision was “a shame for those students.”
In terms of the arms deal, she remained unsure on how the situation would affect the deal: “We’re waiting for answers on how Saudi Arabia intends to go forward with the relationship.”