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  • May 19th, 2016

New developments in the fight against sordid Saudi arms deal


Our April 27th blog post highlighted our Open letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to rescind forthwith the export permits approved by Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion for the “unethical and immoral” Saudi arms deal. Since then, we have seen more damning evidence of Saudi repression of the Shia minority at home, as well as newly declassified evidence of the Saudi role in the September 11th attacks.

Most recently, we have learned of the last minute “postponement” by Saudi Arabia of their unseemly and untimely plans for a huge “cultural festival” in Ottawa on May 18-21st. Billed as a showcase for Saudi dancing, cuisine, calligraphy, and Saudi-Canadian relations, one can be sure that seminars on the brutal Saudi justice system (with its ghastly array of beheadings, floggings, and stonings) would not have been on the agenda of this free public event.

‘Logistical’ concerns have derailed the four-day festival planned for this week – says Saudi Embassy in Ottawa

We must contrast that bit of good news with the bombshell in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail in the form of a commentary by veteran Middle East expert and retired Canadian diplomat Michael Bell: “Canada’s new strategy pays off with a seat at the Syria table”.  However able a commentator Bell may be, his argument that we need to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia in order to have a seat at the Syrian peace talks is so misguided as to take one’s breath away.

Canada has played a valuable role in past negotiations precisely because we were an honest broker, able to see things from all sides, not a “yes man” for our heavyweight allies.

What possible use are we at the Syrian peace talks if we cannot propose anything that Saudi Arabia might dislike? –  asks RI President Peggy Mason

We do not have the “hard power” leverage of the United States, Russia, the UK, and France—all permanent members of the UN Security and all major arms dealers—and that is precisely our “soft power” value in proposing solutions that have the greatest chance of working for everyone.

It is also absurd to suggest that sales of Canadian LAVs to Saudi Arabia are necessary to shore up the House of Saud. Rather than yet another sell-out for Saudi cash, what is actually needed is a country with the courage to support President Obama’s none-too-subtle message in his recent Atlantic Magazine interview that the only real way forward for the Kingdom is if it starts to take reforms more seriously at home and co-existence with Iran to heart in the region.

Canada has nothing to offer at the negotiating table as an echo of the big boys who argue that human rights matter when they are violated by the other side’s allies but are irrelevant when grossly violated by our own.

For a reminder of the war crimes in Yemen of which Saudi Arabia stands accused, see: Experts conclude Saudi-led coalition conducted widespread airstrikes against civilian targets in violation of international law.

For a chilling account by Robert Kennedy Jr. of the long history of American interventions in the Middle East, see: Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria: They don’t hate our freedoms. They hate that we’ve betrayed our ideals in their own countries – for oil. (Politico.eu, 3/1/2016).

For the latest on Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, see: Dion to raise human rights concerns during visit to Saudi Arabia (Steven Chase, Globe and Mail, 18 May 2016).

Photo credit: General Dynamics Land Systems

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