Unpopular opinion: I don’t support Trudeau’s stance on Saudi Arabia

Iran is a much bigger threat than Saudi Arabia, but why won't the Prime Minister criticize them?

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The current situation with Saudi Arabia that our prime minister has found himself in, does make me want to empathize with him. After all, I myself am a political refugee from Iran, and have worked in the field of human rights for years. And as Trudeau obviously does not understand much about world politics, he was just trying to look cool for his friends. He huffed and the Saudis puffed back, so hard indeed, that it blew all our deals up. He never expected such an aggressive response.

Now he is in a pickle, stuck between the ‘Rock’ and a ‘Johnson’ if you will.

On the one hand, he can’t back down from supporting international human rights. On the other hand, he can’t be the prime minister who closed off the Middle Eastern markets for Canada.

But, it’s not as if Canada hasn’t condemned Saudis before, and this situation is also about Raif Badawi. So what was different this time? Let’s start by comparing the wording of the two condemnations. Here is Stephen Harper’s statement in 2015:

“We find the gestures imposed on Mr. Badawi to be barbaric, and we will continue to express our views.” 

Here’s the Trudeau government’s statement:

“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”

As you can see, Stephen Harper’s statement conveys Canada’s feelings regarding the matter. While the second statement is demanding the “immediate release of them and all the other peaceful human rights activists.”

To the Saudis, the first statement is an expression of our feeling as Canadians, and the second one is an ultimatum. Harper understood that you cannot tell a nation that doesn’t really need you, what to do. But he still stated his views on the matter.  That is what a smart and still principled politician does.

Now one might rightfully say: “But this is still the right thing to do! We have the moral high ground here!” And you’d be right on normal circumstances, or if this was a small and weak country. But the reality is, the Trudeau government has no “power” nor “moral high ground” to demand Saudis to do anything.

Power: The reality is, Saudi Arabia is not a democratic country that usually respects human rights, and just happened to make one mistake this time. It is also not a country that appreciates being told what to do. It’s a country that is known as the birthplace and the center of the Islamic tradition and the Islamic World, the strongest Arab country, the 16th largest economy in the world (Canada being 15th), and the third largest economy among Muslim countries, after Indonesia and Turkey, with a much smaller population than either. They don’t really need Canada’s trade. In fact, they use trade to make friends. Trudeau has nothing that would give him such confidence in dealing with them or could make them listen to him.

Despite the wishes of its strongly religious population, Saudi Arabia has recently started to severely reform its practice of the Islamic tradition, which will have a ripple effect in the Muslim world and will prove to change the world. It has given women most of the rights they were denied by the text of the Quran, and it has removed many of the traditions of Islam, including allowing women to become clergy, travel without a guardian’s permission, or sing and dance in public. To give you a general perspective, it would be as if the Vatican decided to “change a few things” and priests could get married now. It has also announced that Jews are not to be killed!

Yes, I understand how it sounds! But this is a huge step. Trust me… Saudi Arabia is a country navigating reforms through dangerous terrains between its own fundamentalists inside and the Islamic Republic’s Shia empire abroad. As a result of these freedoms, Saudi Arabia is now technically, a freer country than my home country of Iran.

Islamic Republic of Iran on the other hand, has done worse versions of EVERYTHING that Saudi Arabia has done. Saudis flog their bloggers, yet the Islamic Republic has executed quite a few of their bloggers and has some on death row at this very moment. The late Sattar Beheshti was one, and Sohail Arabi is on death row, which the Trudeau government is completely silent on. Iran imprisons thousands of political dissidents, the lawyers who defend them, and journalists who report on them. Iran has the highest rate of executions in the world, much higher than Saudis, and Iranian women are treated as second class citizens as well.

On top of that, the Islamic Republic even murdered a Canadian citizen last year, Kavous Seyed-Emami, and took his wife hostage. Again, no peep out of the Liberal government. Not forgetting the fact that the regime beating up its own people who are demonstrating against it all over the country as we very speak. Despite all this, ever since the beginning of his administration, Justin Trudeau has consistently tried to get friendlier with Iran. It could be because his brother makes documentaries for Press TV, Islamic Republic’s international propaganda machine that was recently blocked in Britain for broadcasting tortured prisoners’ forced confessions. The Ayatollah must be thinking “what more should we do to get a condemnation around here?”

So, when the Trudeau administration suddenly decides to order Saudis for “immediate release” of prisoners, as a Saudi, you see the hypocrisy in that. You know that Iran has much, much more prisoners of thought than you, way more executions and murders in prison than you, and its people hate its regime with such burning passion that they risk getting shot or killed. And in your mind, you know that the Canadian government knows those facts. So, you’d probably ask yourself, why aren’t they ever condemning the Islamic “republic”?

Is it because Saudis are US allies and getting friendly with Israel, and the Canadian government isn’t a friend of any of those governments?

Is it because the Islamic Republic is a friend of Trudeau’s government that spends a lot on Liberals, and Liberals feel like they should support it and attack its opponents (we know some Iranian MPs who are very friendly with the Islamic Republic).

In any case, it is obvious to Saudis and everyone who actually follows international politics that Trudeau’s government is very selective in its defense of Human Rights.

Or is it simply because the Liberal government, like a teenager on social media, just wanted to look good without actual hard work defending a cause they knew nothing about and will forget about in a week? Only this time, they weren’t allowed to just show some socks and throw in a few “diversity” and “fear mongering” and act like it never happened and hoping everyone else will too, like we did as a nation, with Trudeau’s India trip.

I do hope this controversy leads Canada to use more of its own natural resources. These are dangerous waters of international politics, and we are navigating through fragile relations, new alliances being forged, new enemies emerging and joining forces, and international disasters lurking on every turn. Unfortunately, our captain is a teenager who seems to care much more about looking cool while taking a selfie with one hand on the wheel, than he cares about the future of his “post-National” country.

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Siavash Safavi
Sia Sufi (Siavash Safavi, Civil Space Network) is a former student activist and political prisoner from Iran. He escaped the country in 2010, and lived in Turkey as a refugee until he arrived in Canada in 2013. He has a bachelor in English Literature, and has published and translated books, essays, articles, and written satires for several Iranian diaspora media and NGOs. In January 2017, he was named by the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guard as one of the 30 traitors to the country.
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