Saudi Arabia is buying shares of Alberta’s oil sands companies. The ‘ethical oil’ argument is dead.

As I worked with a number of those mentioned in the article, couldn’t resist reposting this. Alykhan Velshi, a really bright guy, has of course in a further irony, ended up shilling for Huawei despite the overall Conservative suspicion of China:

When Norway’s massive pension fund announced that it had sold its positions in major Canadian energy companies like Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources, Alberta’s premier came out swinging. “To be blunt,” Kenney told reporters last week, “I find that incredibly hypocritical.” After all, he said, Norway continues to develop its own oil and gas resources, including the 2.7 billion barrels that are contained in the new Johan Sverdrup field that is already producing 430,000 barrels of oil per day.

For those of a less pugilistic orientation, Norway’s decision might be seen as a prudent act of financial diversification; one that Alberta could easily emulate if it wanted to. If Norway is already producing oil and benefitting from the tax revenue and jobs it creates, there’s no need for them to double down by also investing their one-trillion-dollar nest egg in companies that also depend on the price of oil. This isn’t a philosophy that’s particularly popular in Alberta, mind you, given Alberta Investment Management Corporation’s well-documented history of being more heavily exposed to the energy sector than other pension funds.

But while Kenney was quick to call out Norway’s alleged hypocrisy in selling their shares of oil sands companies, he has so far remained silent about the news that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was busy buying them. As Bloomberg reported last week, it now owns 2.6 per cent of Canadian Natural Resources, and two per cent of Suncor, which makes it the eighth and 14th largest shareholder in the two companies respectively. Ironically, it also added to its position in Equinor, the Norwegian company that’s developing the Johan Sverdrup field.

As Premier, Kenney has been at the forefront of recent efforts to paint Canadian oil and gas as more “ethical” and therefore more worthy of investment. This narrative, which was first advanced by Ezra Levant, has been deployed most visibly in the conversation about the Energy East pipeline and the decision by New Brunswick’s Irving Refinery to buy its oil from Saudi Arabia rather than Canada. But Kenney’s affiliation with it goes back much further than that. It was his former director of communications and parliamentary affairs, Alykhan Velshi, who created the “Ethical Oil Institute” in July 2011, and his former executive assistant, Jamie Ellerton, served as its executive director between January 2012 and April 2013.

Kenney is hardly alone in his fondness for Levant’s narrative, though. Its core tenets—namely, that Canada’s legal, environmental and regulatory standards make our oil more inherently virtuous—are practically articles of faith in the oil and gas industry. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Nancy Southern, the CEO of Atco and a founding member of the Business Council of Alberta, was quick to invoke it: “I think it is time for people to stand up and demonstrate true moral leadership about the fact that the world is better because of petroleum products,” she said.

But if Saudi Arabia’s oil is a conduit for its anti-democratic and values, as ethical oilers like to argue, then what about its money? That money comes from the sale of its own ethically-challenged oil. Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources can’t prevent Mohammed bin Salman or the Saudi Public Investment Fund from buying their shares, but those who have been more than happy to bang the drum about Saudi Arabia’s moral and ethical failings could speak up here.

So far, though, they’ve been conspicuously silent. Take Eric Nuttall, a fund manager with Ninepoint Investments and a frequent purveyor of the ethical oil narrative. In a recent tweet, he sounded positively delighted by the development, and made no mention of the ethical dimensions of Saudi Arabia’s money. “So much for Canadian oil companies not being attractive to foreign investors!” He wrote. “We are 100 per cent invested in Canada given highly attractive valuations and improving takeaway capacity and it’s interesting that Saudi Arabia agrees with us.”

In fairness to the industry, it’s hardly alone in speaking out of both sides of its mouth about Saudi Arabia. The federal government recently renegotiated a $14 billion deal that will allow the sale of Canadian-made light-armoured vehicles to the kingdom (a deal that was originally struck by the Harper government back in 2014). And MBS hasn’t been shy about using Saudi Arabia’s wealth to buy its way into companies and communities throughout the west, including a recent bid to buy the English Premier League’s Newcastle United football club.

But if Canadian oil and gas companies are going to accept Saudi Arabia’s money, it’s probably time for their proxies to retire arguments about the immorality of their oil. After all, as Jason Kenney will tell you, nobody likes a hypocrite.

Source: Saudi Arabia is buying shares of Alberta’s oil sands companies. The ‘ethical oil’ argument is dead.

Saudi Arabia Rebuffs Trump Administration’s Requests to Stop Teaching Hate Speech in Schools

“Modernization” only goes so far:

In 2018, Saudi women took to the streets around the country, permitted to drive cars themselves for the first time. That same year, unrelated men and women were allowed to mix at a Formula-E car race and concert extravaganza, listening to DJ David Quetta and the Black Eyed Peas—unthinkable not long ago in a country where religious police used to enforce a strict separation of the sexes.

That’s part of the raft of highly visible social reforms that Saudi Arabia has launched in recent years as the Kingdom tries to reposition itself as a modern global economic powerhouse. But you don’t have to look far to see a very different country, where officials plotted the violent murder of The Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi, where a young Saudi Air Force officer studied before deploying for training in Florida where he shot three U.S. Navy Airmen last fall, and where millions of children go to school every day and read state-sanctioned hate speech in their text books.

For a White House that seems to have given Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a wide berth on the first two incidents, the Trump Administration has been pushing hard behind the scenes for the last one to change. Since 2017, when President Donald Trump marked Saudi Arabia as a key regional ally, the Administration has seen the state’s textbooks — which teach a version of fundamental Islam so extreme it was used by the Islamic State — as a security threat and a key part of its efforts to fight terrorism.

Two new reviews of Saudi government textbooks show not much has changed, despite these efforts. In 2019, Saudi students were still being instructed to keep westerners at a distance, to consider Jews “monkeys” and “assassins” bent on harming Muslim holy places, and to punish gays by death. All those sentiments are included in text books that are required reading for Muslim children in Saudi Arabia from kindergarten through high school, according to a review by Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, or IMPACT SE, a nonprofit whose research has been cited by the UN and the Anti-Defamation League.

A second organization highlighted similar disturbing material. “Students are being taught that Christians, Jews and other Muslims are ‘enemies’ of the true believer, and to befriend and show respect only to other true believers, specifically the Wahhabis,” the strict sect of Islam upon which Saudi Arabia was founded, says Ali Al-Ahmed of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Gulf Studies, in a preview for TIME of his own meticulous review of the 2019 textbooks due out in March. The two groups have shared their results with U.S. government officials.

Both reviews acknowledge there have been some changes to the Saudi curriculum, designed to appease the Kingdom’s western critics. Al-Ahmed notes that in one passage, the phrase “Christians and Jews” has been replaced with phrase “the enemies of Islam,” but says other parts of the same textbook make clear that Christians and Jews remain in the ‘enemies’ camp. Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT SE, says some of the most notable changes in the curriculum fit in the Crown Prince’s ambitious modernization plan for the country, called Vision 2030, such as depicting women as entrepreneurs. “But they are encouraged to be entrepreneurs while not befriending westerners they would do business with,” Sheff adds.

The slow pace of change and the Saudi government’s refusal to do more has been a source of disappointment to Trump, a senior administration official tells TIME. Trump joins a long line of U.S. leaders, UN bodies and human and civil rights groups that have been pressuring the Saudi government for decades to stop proselytizing its harsh version of Wahhabi Islam, spread inside and outside the Kingdom by its clerics’ sermons online or given in mosques that Saudi money built. The government freely distributes hundreds of thousands of Wahhabi Qurans around the world, and makes its school textbooks freely available on the internet. Since the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., largely by Saudi-born jihadists, every administration that has occupied the White House has asked the Saudi government to revise what it teaches its children, with only glacial change as a result.

Trump Administration officials say they’ve been working in private to point out the dangers of this kind of hateful language to Saudi officials, but they are reluctant to publicly criticize Riyadh’s foot-dragging. “We can’t just demand from a sovereign nation ally an immediate fix,” a second senior administration official told TIME. “The Saudis are crucial to our national security efforts in the region, mainly those in places like Yemen… They have provided us a lot of support in those fights that we share.”

The Bush and Obama Administrations also kept similar critiques behind closed doors, according to Farah Pandith, who served in both administrations and was appointed first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities. “They were our partners in the post-9/11 context in fighting al Qaeda. We wanted to do this in a way that allowed them to keep a little bit of dignity but also show leadership,” she told TIME. “It should not be others forcing them to do the right thing.” She says the Saudi government has dismissed some of the more extreme preachers and taken some of their most hate-filled sermons off the internet, but much of the material is still accessible, including in the national curriculum. “It’s a question of scale. I traveled to 80 countries as representative to Muslim communities. None has more influence than the Saudis.”

Saudi critics like say the curriculum is perpetuating extremist violence, including the actions of Saudi Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, who is accused of opening fire on U.S. personnel at Naval Air Station Pensacola on December 6th, killing three Navy Airmen and injuring eight. Alshamrani, an officer of the Royal Saudi Air Force, had armed himself with a legally purchased 9mm Glock handgun, only days after reportedly showing videos of mass shootings to other Saudi students training at the base as part of a longstanding U.S. military training program.

Terrorism expert Mia Bloom says the material Alshamrani would have ingested at school back home was so extreme that the State Department found it was used by the Islamic State during its reign of terror in Iraq and Syria. “Until ISIS started publishing their own ‘Al-Harouf’ series of children’s textbooks, ISIS used Saudi textbooks in their schools to train the cubs of the caliphate,” Bloom told TIME, a subject she detailed in her 2019 book, Small Arms: Children and Terrorism. “The Saudi textbooks promoted a view of the world that was virtually indistinguishable from ISIS ideology: hatred of the west; hatred of other Muslims, that are not Sunni; hatred of Jews and antagonism towards women.” Al-Ahmed says the Saudi officer would have had to prove mastery of such malevolent material to rise in the military ranks.

None of the Trump Administration officials would go so far as to blame such lessons for the Saudi officer’s alleged actions, but they concede if the education had been reformed shortly after 9/11 in 2001, when Alshamrani would have been around two years old, it may have helped. “Unfortunately, Pensacola is a reminder — a harsh one — of work left undone,” an administration official said.

“You could go back to 2001,” a second senior official added, referring to the attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. “If they had changed their textbooks in 1975, we’d be in a better spot.” The administration officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity to brief TIME on their sensitive discussions with the Saudi Kingdom over the issue.

Among the gradual changes IMPACT SE notes in the 2019 Saudi textbooks include striking several references of Christians as “pure infidels” or unbelievers, and removing the statement that “Christianity in its current state is an invalid and perverted religion.” The Christian faith is no longer defined as a “colonial religious movement that subjected Muslims to Western ideas and stopped the spread of Islam,” the report said, all of which are positive changes if your number one supporter is President Trump, whose base is largely made up of evangelical Christians.

Also deleted is the claim that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are “a secret Jewish plan to take over the world,” and that Jews believe the world was promised to them and that it’s their right to control it. But Zionism is still described as a racist movement that uses money, the media, drugs, and women to achieve its goals, according to IMPACT SE’s review.

A Saudi official told TIME that the Kingdom “is implementing a comprehensive program to reform and improve all its educational institutions,” which include “ongoing” reforms to the textbooks. The official declined to comment on an advance copy of IMPACT-SE’s report made available to him by TIME.

Amb. Nathan Sales, the State Department’s Acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, asked the Saudi government to make further changes to the textbooks, but was rebuffed, a senior administration official told TIME. The State Department declined to comment on Sales’ interaction, but a senior State Department official said that “the Saudi government has worked to modernize the educational curriculum in public schools” but that “some textbooks containing derogatory and intolerant references to Shia and non-Muslims remained in use.” Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the friction with the Kingdom.

Administration officials are still hoping for bigger reforms this summer, when the government publishes the 2020 edition of the K through 12 textbooks.

Pandith says the textbooks aren’t the only thing that needs changing, as the hundreds of thousands of Saudi Korans distributed around the world also portray Wahhabism as the only true version of Islam. “If you want to demonstrate that you see the folly of what you did before…let’s do a buyback program,” she says, an idea she outlines in her 2019 book, How We Win.

“If MBS (the Crown Prince) wanted to overhaul the viewpoint that they are the only Muslims that matter, he could do it in a minute with the kind of government they have,” she says. “The choice to do it piecemeal means their heart isn’t in this endeavor.”

Source: Saudi Arabia Rebuffs Trump Administration’s Requests to Stop Teaching Hate Speech in Schools

Saudi Arabia to grant citizenship to ‘innovative’ individuals

Will be interesting to see the results in a few years’ time:

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered a royal decree on Thursday granting citizenship to foreigners in fields such as medicine and technology in a bid to diversify the kingdom’s economy.

The changes are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic and social reform plans to diversify the economy and steer it away from its reliance on oil.

It aims to attract “scientists, intellectuals and innovators from around the world, to enable the kingdom to become a diverse hub… that the Arab world would be proud of,” Saudi Project, a government platform, said on Twitter.

Experts in the fields of forensic and medical science, technology, agriculture, nuclear and renewable energy, oil and gas and artificial intelligence will be considered.

Individuals in the fields of arts, sports and culture are also included in the order to “contribute and support the enhancement of Saudi competencies and knowledge that will benefit the general public.”

The current Saudi citizenship law allows the naturalisation of foreign citizens who have held permanent residency in the kingdom for at least five years.

But the requirement of a Saudi sponsor has restricted foreigners living in the country from gaining permenant residencies.

Last month, the kingdom issued its first batch of “premium” residence visas for investors, doctors, engineers or financiers who wish to live in the kingdom.

The programme offers foreign nationals and their families long-term visas and privileges that were previously not available to non-Saudis.

The kingdom also announced the launch of its new tourist visas in September that will grant individuals multiple entries to the country.

It’s expected the announcement will create one million new jobs for the country by 2030.

Source: Saudi Arabia to grant citizenship to ‘innovative’ individuals

ICYMI: Change in the Saudi Birthplace of Islam Is Eyed Warily Worldwide

Having lived in Saudi Arabia 1986-88, hard to see the country attracting many tourists, although the desert is imposing and some of the modern architecture, incorporating elements of Islamic design, is impressive:

The world’s 1.8 billion Muslims look to one country above all others.

As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia is a symbol of purity for many who direct their prayers toward Mecca wherever they are in the world.

Source: Change in the Saudi Birthplace of Islam Is Eyed Warily Worldwide

The New Saudi Diaspora Why MBS Should Worry About Asylum Seekers

Interesting article and of course, we have our examples (e.g., Ensaf Haidar, wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi):

At first glance, it may not seem as though Saudi university students, disgruntled princes, Islamists, and teenage girls have much in common. But members of all these groups are leaving Saudi Arabia and seeking asylum in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Their numbers may be modest compared with those of the refugees who have fled Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria in the past two decades, but these asylum seekers are a political problem for the kingdom—one that its supposedly modernizing young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), can no longer ignore.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 815 Saudi citizens applied for asylum in 2017, a 318 percent increase from 2012. And that’s not counting the unofficial asylum seekers—those living abroad in a state of self-exile, delaying their return to the country for fear of repression. The murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of them.

This new, outspoken Saudi diaspora poses several problems for the kingdom. For one, Saudi Arabia spends millions of dollars on scholarships in order to lessen its dependency on foreign labor; it cannot then afford to lose its highly educated young citizens to exile abroad. The diaspora is also creating an image issue: behind every asylum seeker is a story of injustice and repression that punctures the official narrative about the new, modern Saudi Arabia, flush with economic opportunity. For this reason among others, asylum seekers strain Saudi Arabia’s relationships with their host governments, who are all allies and partners of the regime in Riyadh.

THE RUNAWAYS

MBS has trained particular resources and attention on young Saudis, promoting artistic and entrepreneurial initiatives designed to open the economy and reward youth creativity and talent. He even started an initiative, the Misk Foundation, dedicated to empowering youth to participate in the Saudi economy. But the very demographic MBS courts produces the majority of asylum seekers leaving the country. These newer exiles join the many students who obtained government scholarships to study in Europe and the United States during King Abdullah’s reign from 2005 to 2015 and failed to return to build the “new Saudi Arabia” afterward. By the time MBS had consolidated his power and become the new face of Saudi Arabia in 2017, many of those students were inclined to be skeptical of the crown prince’s promises of creativity, opportunity, and prosperity. They feared repression if they returned to Saudi Arabia—especially if they had taken advantage of freedoms abroad to criticize the regime and expose its shortcomings.

Their fears were well-grounded, as the Saudi regime isn’t hard to provoke. A tweet, a WhatsApp message, or participation in an academic or policy event deemed hostile to the regime is all it might take to wind up on a suspect list in MBS’ Saudi Arabia. The regime maintains tight control over its citizens abroad, watching their every move with developed surveillance technology. The scandal of pervasive surveillance was exposed after the Khashoggi murder, when it became public knowledge that the regime had hacked the phone of a young activist, Omar al-Zahrani, in Canada and recorded his communication with the slain journalist.

Young, educated asylum seekers undermine Saudi propaganda about the new opportunities on offer in the kingdom. And exiled princes challenge the myth of solidarity and cohesion in the royal family. The latter image has eroded since the purge of November 2017, when MBS detained high-ranking princes, including Alwaleed bin Talal and Mutaib bin Abdullah, at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. The flight of a handful of princes who have taken up residence in Europe underlines the fact that under the new crown prince, the regime has changed its strategy from buying off problematic princes to threatening them with humiliating detention.

Young, educated asylum seekers undermine Saudi propaganda about the new opportunities on offer in the kingdom.

Prince Khalid bin Farhan al-Saud is one example of a dissident prince who has eroded the regime’s power from afar. From exile in Germany, Prince Khalid announced his defection in 2013 and started a media campaign to undermine MBS. In interviews with the BBC and other news organizations that the regime considers hostile, Prince Khalid accused the royal family of hypocrisy for enjoying prohibited pleasures such as drinking alcohol and partying while denying them to ordinary citizens, and he characterized King Salman as a “Machiavellian monarch.” After the Khashoggi murder, Prince Khalid announced that he had escaped from a kidnapping attempt in Germany, allegedly ordered by the crown prince.

Exiled princes tend not to come from the core House of Saud lineage that has ruled the kingdom since 1933. But in a family dynasty in which the king is supposed to be primus inter pares, the first among equals, even the defection of a minor prince fractures the foundation of dynastic rule. Now that it is clear that MBS is willing to punish, kidnap, and humiliate defectors, exile has become the only solution for disgruntled princes. Prince Khalid was lucky. Other princes, such as Saif al-Islam al-Saud and Sultan ibn Turki al-Saud, were kidnapped from Europe and returned to Saudi Arabia and have not been seen since.

The newest emerging category of Saudi exiles are the so-called runaway girls. More than 1,000 girls between the ages of 18 and 25 have left Saudi Arabia under MBS, fleeing the strict control—and in some cases, physical and sexual abuse—their guardians impose on them. Their difficult journeys risk bringing even more restrictions and punishments upon them if they are forced to go back to Saudi Arabia.

A recent high-profile case has drawn international attention to the runaway girls. On January 5, 2019, 18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun was detained at the Bangkok airport while on her way to seek asylum in Australia. Qunun spent several days in a hotel room at the airport before Canada granted her asylum. Without the support of many Saudi and non-Saudi activists, she might have shared the fate of other, less fortunate runaway girls: repatriation to the kingdom against her will. The regime now acknowledges this problem to the extent that it allowed the airing of debates on the issue in state-sponsored media after Qunun fled the country. Public discussion of the problem may imply that the government is starting to take it seriously; it may also be a way for the government to deflect the crisis and shift the blame to the girls’ parents or guardians.

A UNITED FRONT

Saudi exiles are extremely diverse in their political orientations but united in their grievances against the kingdom under MBS: restricted speech, corruption, the marginalization of women and minorities, and abuses of human rights. The latter concern dominated an opposition conference, hosted by the new forum Diwan London, in December 2018. Among the participants were the Washington-based activist Hala al-Dosari, now Jamal Khashoggi fellow at The Washington Post; the feminist activists Amani al-Ahmadi and Amani al-Issa; the newly exiled Islamists Sultan al-Abdali, Muhammad al-Omari, Ahmad bin Rashid al-Said, and Mohammed al-Qahtani; and the Shiite activist Fuad Ibrahim. They were joined by exiles who had fled the kingdom in the 1990s, such as the physics professor Muhammad al-Massari. All presented their visions for a different Saudi Arabia. Some advocated practical measures to stop repression and detentions; others called for the overthrow of the regime.

The regime’s worst nightmare is a critical mass of dissidents abroad—especially high-profile, articulate ones.

So far, neither Saudi Arabia nor the host governments have taken asylum seekers seriously as a political force. But as their numbers grow and they begin to form a united front, these exiles will become an increasing embarrassment to the regime and its allies. Many are now regular commentators for the global news media, analyzing Saudi affairs in ways that are bound to shift public opinion against the regime. For example, the detained Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul has a brother, Walid, in the United States and a sister, Alya, in Belgium, both of whom campaign for her release and regularly inform the news media about the abuse and torture to which she is subjected. Vigorous reporting by human rights organizations, UN agencies, and the global news media makes it harder for host countries to deny these Saudis asylum.

In the past, Saudi Arabia depended on its allies to deport its exiles. It considers granting them asylum an act of betrayal. Take Canada, for example, whose diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia suffered owing to its criticisms of the regime’s human rights abuses and its hosting of outspoken exiles such as Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and several years in prison for setting up a liberal Internet forum. Zahrani is also in Canada, together with almost 200 other young asylum seekers. The regime fears that exiles who gain asylum will encourage others to flee. Its worst nightmare is a critical mass of dissidents abroad—especially high-profile, articulate ones. Khashoggi’s murder attests to the policy of zero tolerance for such critical voices abroad: they are treated not as nuisances but as national security threats. The more exiles arrive in the lands of the crown prince’s best allies and supporters, the more Riyadh will pressure the host governments to play down their numbers and deny them refuge.

Even after the global outrage following the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi repression remains fierce, and MBS continues to make enemies. He will not be able to buy off, intimidate, or eliminate all of them, and the diaspora will continue to grow. But he may try to stem the exodus, for example, by banning activists and dissidents from travel—keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.

Source: The New Saudi Diaspora

Gurski: Why Canada should not be in a hurry to re-embrace Saudi Arabia

Good piece by Gurski:

I never worked in foreign affairs or for Foreign Affairs (or Global Affairs Canada, as it is now known, having once been designated External Affairs and many other names), but I know a little about the subject. After all, you cannot work in intelligence for three decades without picking up a thing or two on how nations manage their relations with other states.

I do know that at times a country has to hold its nose when engaging with a foreign partner whose actions are seen as, at a minimum, distasteful or, at a maximum, grotesque. In this light, I cannot imagine how the current crew at the Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa are handling Canada-U.S. ties, given the present occupant of the White House.

There are also those who maintain that some level of relationship is better than none. A complete cut in ties removes any form of influence or dialogue, although there are other fora (the UN for example) where national representatives can grab a coffee and chitchat about all things statecraft.

On the other hand, there are times and circumstances where a government has little choice but to close doors. Sometimes a state will engage in activities that are truly heinous and no country should allow such to go unpunished.

Saudi Arabia is now in that club. Canada has chosen, at least under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to criticize the kingdom over a variety of incidents; ranging from its treatment of women activists, to its disastrous war in Yemen, which is directly causing a massive humanitarian crisis. The event that overshadows everything, however, is last year’s murder and dismemberment of a Saudi dissident, Jamal Kashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Everyone knows that he was killed on orders from the very top of the Saudi royal family, their incredulous denials, notwithstanding. In return, the Saudis have suspended relations, booted our ambassador in Riyadh out and recalled their own man from Ottawa. There has not been a lot of movement on this file in some time although Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her Saudi counterpart have been “discussing ideas to de-escalate.”

Into this mix comes the Conservative Party, whose foreign affairs critic, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, has said that a government led by Andrew Scheer will try to “win some trust” with the Saudis by focusing on improving business links. O’Toole acknowledges that for some Canadians re-establishing ties with Saudi Arabia will be a “tough sell.”

Ya think?

I fail to see why so many states are still fawning over Saudi Arabia, and especially over the king-in-waiting and international star Muhammad bin Salman (or MBS as he is called: some say the acronym stands for “Mister Bone Saw,” a reference to how Kashoggi was cut up). Yes, yes, it is all about oil and MBS’ plans to modernize his nation and the need to have a stalwart ally against the real menace: Iran.

Except that the crown prince’s words are probably just that: words. Saudi Arabia remains a heavily conservative Wahhabi Muslim state that has exported its hateful strain of Islam worldwide for decades and crushes any internal dissent forcefully. True, there has been some crackdown on the more egregious religious hate-mongers, but this leopard is highly unlikely to change its spots any time soon.

I find it hard to believe that many governments, including the U.S., have been giving the kingdom a pass in the post 9/11 period. Recall that 15 of the 19 hijackers that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudis, bred on Saudi Wahhabi Islam. And for all the noises about a mellowing of Islam in the desert kingdom, there is ample evidence that Saudi-trained imams are continuing to spread Wahhabi poison around the world. And this is what an ally does?

I realize that money trumps values a lot of the time. In this regard, there is a lot of money to be made by having a robust relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly in the defence sector. But what is more important: trade or the values Canada stands for?

So O’Toole, if your party indeed gains power in October, have a re-think over going cap in hand to the Saudis. We really don’t need them. Their actions are antithetical to who we are. I’d like to suggest that you be a little more Canadian yourself and ditch this idea.

Source: Why Canada should not be in a hurry to re-embrace Saudi Arabia

Saudi Kingdom Tries To Prevent More Women From Fleeing

Not surprising:

After an 18-year-old Saudi woman, who said she feared death if deported to Saudi Arabia, arrived in Canada, she directed some of her first public commentsback home. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun encouraged other women to flee family abuse and the oppressive controls imposed on them by the conservative kingdom.

She has just showed them how to do it.

Alqunun was offered asylum in Canada in January after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room, from where she mounted a sophisticated social media campaign that sparked international headlines and sympathy.

But in Saudi Arabia, Alqunun’s successful escape from a prominent family spurred harsh media attacks and a social media narrative accusing Western nations of using Saudi women to undermine the kingdom. Still, the domestic campaign is unlikely to deter other young women from fleeing the kingdom, say activists who are in touch with women planning to run.

The high-profile story is “going to set off copycat scenarios,” says Bessma Momani, a Middle East specialist at Canada’s University of Waterloo. “I think women will feel more emboldened.”

She explains that Alqunun’s story has provided a virtual road map for others and revealed a network of groups willing to work out logistics and offer escape strategies. “Rahaf’s story showed there is a quasi-organized group that is willing to help,” Momani says.

Alqunun’s asylum in Canada comes as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often referred to as MBS, portrays himself as the leader who is steering the country toward a more secular modernity.

Movie theaters have reopened. Saudi women can now drive cars and attend sports events. The kingdom says it has made it easier for women to enter the workplace.

“Any way you slice it, MBS has done more change than anyone in the last 50 years,” says Ali Shihabi, who heads the Arabia Foundation, a pro-Saudi think tank in Washington, D.C. Reform is “an art rather than a science,” he says, “and being an art, there are going to be mistakes. He can’t let the snowball get too big.”

The crown prince is also behind a harsh crackdown on political dissent. That includes jailing more than a dozen women’s rights activists who were vocally pushing for an end to Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, which allows male relatives to control most aspects of a woman’s life.

“When MBS came, he made it clear: ‘You either listen to me, or you go to jail,’ ” says Yasmine Farouk, a visiting scholar in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“He is that much of a dictator that he is able to impose measures that other kings were too scared to impose on society. We are talking about a regime that wants to do everything under its control.”

But the growing number of Saudis seeking refuge abroad undermines Prince Mohammed’s international image as a leader bringing new personal freedoms to the kingdom, says 30-year-old Samah Damanhoori. She was granted asylum in the United States last year after she accused her family of abuse and declared she was no longer a Muslim.

“OK, we are going to let you drive — happy now? Stop running away,” she says, to explain her views on reforms introduced by Prince Mohammed. “But more women are running away. We have to do that to get them full rights.”

In Saudi Arabia, men wield vast powers over women. The guardianship system gives male relatives control over women’s travel, education, medical treatment and marriage. An app called Absher allows Saudi men to specify when and where a woman can travel. The service includes a message alert when a woman uses her passport at an airport or a border crossing.

Fleeing even an abusive home is a crime. If caught, a woman can be jailed or housed in a government-run shelter until her guardian permits her release.

Alqunun’s success was a “huge shake,” Damanhoori says, because she comes from a prominent family, the daughter of a powerful governor.

“The more powerful the family, the harder for a woman to escape, because of family connections. But she made it.”

Alqunun’s family status may explain why the Saudi government has ramped up a campaign to stem the flow. In recent weeks, the General Department for Counter Extremism released an online video as a warning. The animated message compares women who flee the country to young men who join terrorist groups — and blames a vast international conspiracy that it says is aiming to damage the kingdom’s image through its youth.

“Everyone who tried to escape, they compare her with ISIS — it’s horrible,” complains Damanhoori.

“This is not going to end,” says Hala Aldosari, a Saudi activist and writer based in New York. “It will get worse.”

Aldosari says the government blames “agents of the West” and “women activists” as the culprits of the alleged global plot to destabilize Saudi Arabia, “rather than the grievance of the women.” She says the common denominator among those trying to flee is that they are “women who come from controlling or abusive families” and who believe that running is the only way to survive.

The rise of social media has opened a window for people to compare Saudi women’s rights with women’s rights in other Gulf nations. “Saudi women are now more aware of the restriction they live with, and they take higher risks to escape,” Aldosari says.

Reliable statistics in Saudi Arabia on these escapes are hard to find. Some families don’t report a missing daughter for fear of social stigma in a society where a family’s honor is tied to the behavior of women.

Figures on Saudi asylum-seekers abroad, however, are known to have increased. Saudis made 815 asylum claims worldwide in 2017, compared with 195 in 2012, according to the latest tallies published in the United Nations Refugee Agency’s database. Their destinations include the U.S., Canada, Germany, Sweden, the U.K. and Australia.

In 2011, Manal al-Sharif was jailed for nine days in Saudi Arabia for protesting driving restrictions. Her activism cost her the custody of her son, she says. Now she is living in self-imposed exile in Sydney.

“These proclaimed reforms are just refurbishing a huge cage,” al-Sharif says of the changes in Saudi Arabia. “We can’t run a country when half of it is depending on the other half.”

But inside the kingdom, the crown prince is largely viewed as trying to change that equation, says Farouk at Carnegie. “It really is a paradox. It’s the strong man who is able to impose reforms without being afraid of the consequences.”

But Saudi officials know the consequences of the continued flight of women. That undermines the international message that Saudi Arabia is modernizing and that Prince Mohammed has opened a new era of freedoms.

Alqunun’s father, who is a governor, released a statement in January saying that the family had disowned the runaway and calling her “the mentally unstable daughter who has displayed insulting and disgraceful behavior.” That prompted the 18-year-old to drop her family name, she told reporters.

Her father reportedly denied physically abusing her or trying to force her into marriage, according to The Associated Press.

So far, Farouk says, the domestic response, even among women, is to condemn Alqunun’s escape as reckless.

“They don’t care,” Farouk says. “Things have changed in their daily life: They can drive to work, they can go to concerts, play sports. As long as their daily life has been made easier, why care about politics?”

But there is still a limit to personal freedoms. “They will care when they try to contest a policy at work,” she says. “They will be jailed or interrogated, or their fathers will have to get them out of the police station. They will care, but it will take time.”

Source: Saudi Kingdom Tries To Prevent More Women From Fleeing

Five Saudi Students Accused of Rape and Murder Have Vanished Before Trial: Updated with Canadian case

Yet another example of bad behaviour by the Saudi government:

New legislation introduced by Oregon senators aims to punish Saudi Arabia following shocking allegations that the kingdom has whisked as many as five young men facing criminal charges, ranging from rape to murder, out of the country from that state alone.

Speaking publicly for the first time Thursday, the parents of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old victim of a hit and run by Saudi student Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah in 2016, said they were horrified to learn their daughter’s alleged assailant had disappeared two weeks before his trial with the help of the Saudi government. Noorah was charged with manslaughter, felony hit-and-run, and reckless driving in the teen’s death. He faced a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.

Federal investigators confirmed to the Oregonian/Oregon Live that a private lawyer hired by the Saudi consulate posted $100,000 of a $1 million bail for the 21-year-old and apparently arranged for a dark SUV to pick him up shortly after he left jail. His severed electronic bracelet was found at a nearby gravel yard. Authorities believe he was given a forged passport, since his was sequestered by Oregon authorities, and flown back to Saudi Arabia on a private jet. He was seen back in his home country a week after he disappeared.

“It’s like the laws of physics go out the door,” Fallon’s mother, Fawn Lengvenis, told Oregon Live on Thursday. “And it all starts from the beginning again.”

The teen victim’s father, Seth Smart, said he cannot help obsessing about his daughter’s killer. “The imagination runs wild,” he said. “Is he just leading his normal life somewhere? Does he even think about it? Does he even care?”

The cases of Saudi students disappearing from Oregon justice are hauntingly familiar. In 2014, Abdulaziz Al Duways was arrested on accusations that he drugged and raped a classmate in Monmouth, Oregon. He, too, disappeared after the Saudi consulate helped secure bail. Four of the young men who vanished have been represented by the same attorney, Ginger Mooney, according to local court documents.

The new legislation introduced by Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden would allow the federal government to actively investigate alleged disappearances and make it more difficult for foreign nationals to be granted bail arranged by consulates.

“When anyone within our nation commits a crime, they need to be held accountable—especially when that crime results in the death of an innocent teenager,” Sen. Merkley said in a statement “Saudi Arabia’s blatant disrespect for international norms cannot be allowed to stand. We should all be able to agree that any nation that helps their citizens escape from the law needs to be held fully accountable.”

Around 1,000 of an estimated 60,000 Saudi students currently studying in the United States live in Oregon, according to a recent report in Gulf News, which estimates that only 8,272 are self-sponsored. The rest are on stipends provided by the Saudi kingdom. Disappearances of Saudi nationals facing criminal justice have also been reported in Ohio and California as well as Canada.

Source: Five Saudi Students Accused of Rape and Murder Have Vanished Before Trial

Information on the Canadian case can be found here: Saudi embassy helped accused rapist flee Canada | Toronto Sun

Chris Selley: What — and who — comes after Rahaf Mohammed?

Appears the government overplayed its hand in its communication strategy, both with respect to the Ministerial welcome (all too tempting) and the ongoing (and understandable) gap between the welcoming rhetoric and actual numbers.

However, Ms. Alqunun’s social media sophistication and poise in her CBC interview is impressive:

If Canada were a proud and principled beacon unto the world’s most downtrodden, as so many so often claim, then one might have expected Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to arrive at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Saturday with relatively little fanfare.

Canada resettles tens of thousands of refugees every year, after all, and many are fleeing circumstances just as horrific as the Saudi teenager’s abuse by her family. Canadian government officials are guarding Alqunun’s current whereabouts partly on grounds she might still be in danger even halfway around the world — an idea given credence by Dennis Horak, who was Canada’s ambassador in Riyadh until he was expelled over the summer.

Indeed, Saudi-Canadian relations are not in terrific shape just at the moment, thanks to our public rebukes of its treatment of activists, and granting immediate asylum to the world’s highest-profile Saudi refugee seems unlikely to help matters. One might very reasonably not give a damn about the House of Saud’s amour propre, but Ottawa would clearly prefer to repair those relations. Quite apart from anything else, it would give Canada more-than-zero leverage in lobbying on behalf of those activists — including imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife is a Canadian citizen.

There were no good reasons to make a big show of Alqunun’s arrival, in other words, and plenty of good reasons not to. Furthermore, Justin Trudeau has been very clear about what he thinks of using refugees as political props. He was at his most thespian back in 2015 when it was alleged Stephen Harper’s office had been sifting through applications from Syrian asylum-seekers in search of potential photo ops.

“That’s DIS-GUST-ING,” Trudeau hissed at a campaign stop in Richmond, B.C. “That’s not the Canada we want; that’s not the Canada we need to build.”

In the end, though, there was Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with her arm draped around Alqunun, announcing that this “brave new Canadian” would not be taking questions. Luckily, Freeland herself had arrived equipped with some crimson talking points.

“I believe in lighting a single candle,” she said. “Where we can save a single person, where we can save a single woman, that is a good thing to do. … And I’d like to also emphasize, this is part of a broader Canadian policy of supporting women and girls in Canada and around the world.”

“Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau chimed in.

It would be well-nigh impossible to argue against hearing, at the very least, Alqunun’s claim for asylum. But at this point, she is certainly also a political prop — a living symbol of the Liberal view of Canada’s place in the world, and an always-welcome opportunity for self-congratulation.

“We are demonstrating our moral leadership on the issue of gender equality,” University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani wrote in The Globe and Mail. “It was another proud moment for Canada,” gushed Catherine Porter, The New York Times’ Toronto correspondent. It “further cement(ed) the country’s status as a bastion of refuge in a world where Western nations have become increasingly hostile to refugees,” the Times’ Twitter account effused.

“Any woman from Saudi Arabia should be able to make a credible case for asylum in this country based on the human rights abuses they endure there,” the Toronto Star’s editorial board averred. And on and on and on.

Saudi Arabia is a country of 33 million people. So no, not every woman there can claim asylum in Canada. I suspect the Liberals might balk at five high-profile claims in rapid succession. That’s what they do. The Liberals made a big show of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees while various European nations accepted many multiples of that; now they brag about how accepting Canadians are of refugees relative to Europe, as if one didn’t largely explain the other. They denounce any worries about asylum-seekers crossing the border illegally as rank intolerance, while waving the new arrivals into an interminable and disastrously under-resourced queue.

There are millions upon millions of displaced people around the world in whom you might expect a giant, wealthy and mostly empty country that prides itself on resettling refugees to take an interest. They aren’t even on the radar. NDP MP Charlie Angus has a more realistic take on what Canada is: “Thousands languish in camps and Chrystia Freeland promotes sale of death machines to Saudis as children die in Yemen,” he tweeted in response to Freeland’s airport press conference. “Foreign policy must be more than smug theatre,” he added.

Well, there’s the rub: Must it?

Canadians of all political stripes take inordinate pride in objectively modest contributions to all manner of global problems. There is nothing inherently disreputable in feeling pride when your country does the right thing — but only if you insist that your country does the right thing continually, coherently and consistently once the warm, fuzzy feeling fades away. Once she’s settled, if she is inclined to remain in the public eye, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun might be the ideal person to hammer that point home.

Source: Chris Selley: What — and who — comes after Rahaf Mohammed?

Two Saudi families buy 62 Maltese passports

Perhaps one of the more glaring examples of the corruption of citizenship by investment programs:

Sixty-two members of two of the richest families in Saudi Arabia became ‘Maltese and EU citizens’ last year after paying millions of euros to buy Malta passports, Times of Malta learnt.

According to the 2017 list of new Maltese citizens, published in The Government Gazette a few days ago, the Al-Muhaidibs and Al-Agils became fully-fledged Maltese citizens last year, even though most of them are minors and might have never set foot on Maltese soil.

The Al-Muhaidibs and the Al-Agils are not only two of the wealthiest business clans in the Saudi kingdom, they are also mentioned by Forbes as among the wealthiest families on the planet.

The Al-Muhaidib Group was established in 1946 and mainly deals in building material and foodstuffs. Group chairman, Sulaiman Al-Muhaidib, who, according to Forbes, has a personal wealth exceeding €3 billion, acquired a Maltese passport last year together with 34 other family members, including his brothers, spouses and their families.

The Government Gazette list, which gives details on a  first name alphabetical order rather than the normal surname module, making it more difficult to distinguish passport buyers from purely new Maltese nationals, indicated that the Al-Agils, who control the Jarir Group business empire, worth over €1.5 billion, procured 27 Maltese passports.

The Jarir Group, which is listed on the Saudi stock exchange and trades in many areas, is controlled by brothers Mohammed, Abdulkarim, Abdulsalam, Abdullah and Naser, all appearing as new Maltese citizens.

Most of them are minors and might have never set foot on Maltese soil

Very little information is given about Malta’s controversial cash for passports scheme, launched in 2014, despite the fact that those who pay large sums of money and buy/rent property on the island are entitled to a Maltese passport, citizenship and the right to vote.

The government has always resisted calls to publish the list of those acquiring Maltese passports through payment and, instead, publishes the names of the new ‘Maltese citizens’ together with hundreds of other names who acquire Maltese citizenship every year through a long legal process, normally through naturalisation.

Read: Henley boasts of cash-for-passports scheme in Malta

Various government spokesmen, including ministers and officials of Identity Malta, have repeatedly shot down calls to make the names of passport buyers’ public, arguing that would jeopardise the scheme’s popularity.

Identity Malta sources told Times of Malta that those buying Maltese passports would not usually be very interested in making such a fact known, especially to their own governments.

A major share of Malta’s passport buyers’ hail from Saudi Arabia as well as other gulf states and far eastern countries. People living in former Soviet republics have also been attracted by the so-called Individual Investor Programme.

More than acquiring Maltese passports, those who fork out €650,000 for every passport and another €25,000 for each dependent would be seeking freedom of movement within the EU since they would also attain EU citizenship as a result.

Although the EU does not look at these schemes positively, it has, so far, tolerated them. This is also due to its limited powers in this area because citizenship rights fall under the direct jurisdiction of member states.

Source: Two Saudi families buy 62 Maltese passports