Saudi Arabia has, in recent months, apprehended and incarcerated a large number of university professors, poets, clergymen and businessmen on charges of acting against national security. The kingdom has also expelled the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh for what Saudi Arabia calls interference in its internal affairs. Saudi Arabia has also recalled its ambassador to Ottawa for consultations. Moreover, Saudi Arabia announced it would suspend all its commercial relations and transactions with Canada as well as Canada’s investments in the Kingdom. Meanwhile, the Saudi national airline announced it would stop its flights to and from Canada and that all sold plane tickets would be canceled. Saudi Arabia also announced it would stop all training, scholarship and student exchange programs with Canada. Riyadh further said it would stop all medical training programs for Saudi nationals in Canada and try to transfer its patients from Canadian hospitals.
In an interview with Khabar Online news website, former Iranian ambassador to the Vatican and Morocco Mohammed Masjed-Jamei has weighed in on Saudi-Canadian relations and a range of other issues related to the Arab kingdom.
Sudden Severance of Ties Common among Arab Leaders
Touching upon Saudi Arabia’s sudden severance of ties with Canada, he said such abrupt moves by Arabs are not unexpected.
“We even saw this tendency recently in faraway Morocco region; I mean Morocco’s cutting off its relations with Iran,” said the former ambassador.
“The Moroccans could have downgraded their ties; they could even stop their relations completely; but this kind of severing relations is pointless in today’s world, even if their claim was supposedly true,” he said.
He further said late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had behaviour which suggested the same approach.
“Basically, such behaviour exists in Arab countries,” said the former diplomat.
He said Arab leaders show extensive feelings of friendship towards one another at a point in time as if they are going to maintain a long and warm relationship for years, but shortly after, their behaviour takes a 180-degree turn.
“At last, they have a specific behavioral logic. Of course, it wouldn’t be right to review issues from an ethnic point of view, but the reality, without any exaggeration, is that such a thing exists,” he says.
He believes Arabs show such behaviour a lot.
“For instance, Iraq had a very cordial relationship with Kuwait before attacking the country. In the ‘Arab Spring’ story, this very dynasty of the Qatari Emir had very amicable ties with [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad. Until before the invasion of Kuwait, during the rule of King Hussein in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Jordan had a very close and cordial relationship, but all of a sudden everything changed and Jordan began to strongly support Saddam Hussein,” he noted.
Masjed-Jamei further touched upon the latest blockade on Qatar as another case in point.
“Or take this recent blockade on Qatar, for example. Shortly before the incident happened, Qatar afforded the greatest welcome of its history to the Saudi king, i.e. Salman. But after a short time, that relationship was severed in the worst manner possible,” he underlined.
He then referred to former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi as another example.
“When Morsi came to power, in his first foreign trip, he went to Saudi Arabia to visit King Abdullah. There, Morsi said they wanted to form a large Sunni coalition. Then suddenly, relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia turned so sour that Saudi Arabia put Muslim Brotherhood members on the list of terrorists,” he noted.
“Or during the reconstruction of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for instance,” he said.
“The services that Muslim Brotherhood rendered to this country was excellent; but after the Arab Spring started, the UAE suddenly turned against Muslim Brotherhood, in the UAE itself as well as in all Arab countries and even Turkey,” the former diplomat noted.
“Or take the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council, for instance. In fact, this council was the most stable and logical united Arab group. But we saw how three members of the council, namely Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE lined up against another member, i.e, Qatar, and treated it in the worst way possible,” he noted.
He said the above-mentioned incidents should “serve as a lesson for us.”
Ties with Arabs Unstable, Fragile
The former diplomat underlined Iran should know that the Arabs’ relations with the country, no matter how warm and cordial they may be, are unstable and fragile, and an about-face in their approach may take place any moment.
He said what has somehow lessened the fragility of relations between Tehran and the Arabs is Tehran’s flexibility and forgiveness.
Another point, he said, concerns Saudi Arabia.
“The reality is that the new Saudi regime, i.e., the authorities running the country after Salman, especially after Mohammed assumed power and was declared as heir to the throne, have e series of thinking problems,” he said.
“They have problems in terms of establishing a posivite relationship that can benefit them both domestically and internationally,” added the former diplomat.
“The pointis that when a person’s evaluation of himself/herself, or a country’s evaluation of itself, or a regime [‘s evaluation] of itself is not in accordance with the reality of that person or country or regime, disorders will emerge, and the more the evaluation’s discordance with reality, the more severe the disorder,” he said.
Another point, he said, concerns Saudi Arabia.
“The reality is that the new Saudi regime, i.e., the authorities running the country after Salman, especially after Mohammed assumed power and was declared as heir to the throne, have a series of thinking problems,” he said.
“They have problems in terms of establishing a positive relationship that can benefit them both domestically and internationally,” added the former diplomat.
“The point is that when a person’s evaluation of himself/herself, or a country’s evaluation of itself, or a regime [’s evaluation] of itself is not in accordance with the reality of that person or country or regime, disorders will emerge, and the more the evaluation’s discordance with reality, the more severe the disorder,” he said.
He then mentioned some examples to further clarify the issue.
“For instance, the image that Muammar Gaddafi had of himself, and of what the West thought of him, and of his influence among the Western states, was completely wrong,” Masjed-Jamei noted.
“Gaddafi really thought if Libya comes under a military attack, the Italian government, which had signed a defence agreement with Tripoli, will definitely stand by Libya and defend the Arab state,”
Gaddafi Wrongly Thought Italy Would Help Libya
“Gaddafi thought now that he has concluded the agreement with Italy, Rome will stay by him and will defend Libya against threats,” said the former diplomat.
“Gaddafi was especially proud about one thing: his personal and friendly relationship with Berlusconi, who was not only Prime Minister at the time, but an influential person in Italy’s industrial and economic society due to his wealth; in other words, his status was not due to his premiership only, but due to different reasons, especially his economic and financial situation,” he said.
The former diplomat underlined that all the points mentioned show that Gaddafi thought the Europeans really liked him and support him as a major stabilizing force in North Aftica and Sahara.
“Of course, Gaddafi did have a stabilizing role in those areas, but wrongly believed the Europeans really supported him, and have a real alliance with him and would stand by him in critical times” he said.
There are other cases as well, he noted.
Then the former Iranian diplomat turned to the isuse of Saudi Arabia.
“Now it should become clear what Saudi Arabia thinks of itself. The reality is that traditionally, until the end of King Abdullah’s rule, Saudi Arabia’s behaviour in its foreign policy was such that it resulted in the country’s stability … but the new ruling elite in Saudi Arabia has ideas similar to that of Gaddafi and believes Western countries really like Saudi rulers and are united with them,” he said.
The former diplomat further referred to a visit to the US last year by Mohammed bin Salman.
“If anyone is familiar with diplomatic norms, he or she will easily find out that during Mohammed bin Salman’s trip to the United States around a year ago, the kind of welcome that Trump extended to him and the kind of meeting they had were very insulting. Bin Salman was like a student standing in front of his despotic teacher,” the former diplomat said.
He then referred to what Trump did during that meeting, i.e., showing to reporters a list of Washington’s arms sales to Riyadh plus the value of every single arms contracts that the US and Saudi Arabia had signed.
“In other words, Trump was telling his people that ‘Look! I’m milking the Saudis!’,” the former diplomat said.
“You know, a great part of Trump’s popularity with his supporters is due to the fact that he is creating jobs and bringing in more financial resources (income) into the US,” said the former diplomat.
Saudis Repeating Gaddafi’s Mistake by Relying on US
He then turned to the Israeli regime and its alliance with the United States.
“Israel, as a country and a regime, is inherently popular with the Westerners and the Americans from whatever group, party or sector. There are numerous reasons for this. For example, Trump’s smile to Netanyahu is really sincere and even brotherly. In fact, in his meeting with Netanyahu, Trump not only considers him as an ally, but as his most important ally; however, Trump’s smile to likes of bin Salman is totally different. His smile and respect is because he wants to milk bin Salman,” said the diplomat.
“Let’s get back to the main issue. Because they don’t have a proper evaluation of their status, they make mistakes and come up with illusions. As to why they don’t have a proper assessment, there are many reasons. Regarding Saudi Arabia, the main reason is the country’s oil riches and petrodollars. They believe because they have money, they are popular, and as a result, they can attain whatever they want, can order others, and can even bully others. They have such a mentality. This is a mishmash of a kind of primitive behaviour which has taken on an aggressive mode; it’s a sort of aggressive primitiveness,” said the former diplomat.
“Formerly, Saudi kings usually tried to remain silent and give ransom and be generous and spend money and sort of ignore things in order to get round problems. They tried not to blow problems out of proportion; rather, they tried to downplay problems and keep them from being known publicly. In other words, they tried to deal with the problem at the outset,” he noted.
The former diplomat then turned to the recent row between Saudi Arabia and Canada.
“We can say that the issue which has emerged with Canada is, in fact, the new Saudi rulers’ first issue with a Western country; in other words, Canada is the first Western country that the new rulers have issues with. It has started with Canada for now, but if they pursue the current approach, they will have numerous problems with other countries, as well,” he stated.
Masjed-Jamei said Saudi rulers do not seem to have the power to understand issues, and those who can understand, do not have the power, or verbal ability to express their ideas.
He then elaborated on why Saudi rulers are not able to understand issues.
“Because if they say a word, they will be accused of treason and betraying the monarchial system and of being weak. As a result of the accusations, they may be stripped of everything. I know that there were some people within the ruling elite and even at the level of ministers, who had different opinions and, hence, were dismissed,” said he former diplomat.
He then touched upon the reasons behind Ms Badavi’s arrest.
“It will be good to mention the root causes of this story. Very briefly speaking, until early 90s, because of the abundant money that Saudi Arabia had and due the fact that the previous generation was inherently conservative, the Saudi society was homogeneous. …. The society was more or less homogeneous and was satisfied with what it had,” he said.
“Tro review it more precisely, the issue is related to Saudi Arabia being modernized. Very briefly, the modernization of Saudi Arabia took place while observing Islamic norms within a tribal and Saudi context. In other words, it was coupled with the welfare that was the result of the wealth injected into the society. So, the core of the society had no problem with modernization and was more or less comfortable with it. In other words, people from almost all walks of life, including women, men, rural, urban, educated, uneducated, etc., were practically living in acceptable conditions,” said the former diplomat.
“But after the 90s, a series of developments began to unfold. In the 90s, a wave of rather widespread discontent which was the fallout from the invasion of Kuwait began for the first time. They were objecting to why Saudi Arabia had allowed Western troops to come to the region and stay there. Anyway, from the on, religious unrest started,” he said.
“It was from early 2000 on that the society’s homogeneity was disrupted. Since early that year, and especially after 2001, the Westerners, especially the Americans, began to adopt measures to open up the Saudi society. Their argument was that the fact that the Saudi society can bring up people who would be able to pull off the 9/11 incident is because of their closed social, political and especially educational and academic system as well as a lack of free elections. They argued that the society shouldbe opened up to reform issues,” he said.
On the other hand, the promotion of communications as well as internet channels and cyberspace together with satellite channels led to the opening up of the Saudi society from within. … The rate of population growth in Saudi Arabia is very high. Now, maybe more than half of Saudi people are under 30. This shows the Saudi society is very young. This very young society is growing up in an atmosphere influenced by cyberspace and satellite channels and new ideas and conditions. This generation is completely different from the previous one and pursues its own different ideas and ideals,” the former diplomat.
He said the new Saudi ruling elite has outrageous interpretations and ideas regarding domestic policies and giving civil rights to people and modernizing the society while confronting the objections and efforts of people in order to gain more rights.
“In other words, the new ruling elite has simply settled for giving a series of very superficial concessions, which, ironically enough, disrupt tranquility and stability in society, and does not tolerate more than that,” he noted.
He said a wife in Saudi Arabia can be served with heavy penalties, from cash fines to a maximum one year in prison, if she checks her husband’s cell phone without permission.
“To tell the truth, this is a deadly poison for a society like that of Saudi Arabia, a society that does not have basic preparations for such a thing and [a society] where the man is not a ‘pillar,’ but a ‘master;’ that will result in numerous family and social challenges,” said the former diplomat.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Masjed-Jamei touched upon the expulsion of the Canadian ambassador from Saudi Arabia, and said it does not have anything to do with the Saudi crimes in Yemen.
“Fairly speaking, this story is not related to Saudi Arabia’s regional problems and the issue of Yemen and Hudaydah and so on. The point is that Saudi Arabia, due to some reasons, wants to stave off criticism over human rights issues by major and influential Western countries, be it the US, Britain or France. This issue is probably a major part of the reasons behind this sever reaction,” he noted.
He said Riyadh’s move was aimed at teaching Ottawa a lesson.
“It seems that Canada paid the price for others; in other words, Saudi Arabia’s extreme move came as an object lesson to others,” he said.
The former diplomat said Canada was more vulnerable than others in that saga.
“They have already done that to Germany. In recent months, Germany criticized Saudi Arabia on numerous occasions, especially over Yemen. The Saudis, of course, reacted to the criticisms. Germany is a big country and is the driving force behind the EU, economically and industrially,” he said.
He noted that the severance of Riyadh- Ottawa ties will not harm Canada.
“Canada is very rich, very vast and full of potential and facilities; after all, it is one of G7 countries. … So, Canada cannot be harmed by such an issue. Of course, a couple of Canadian companies may be hurt, but that would be nothing. Canada’s exports to Saudi Arabia mostly included military hardware, namely tanks,” he said.
He then touched upon short-term and long-term consequences of Saudi Arabia’s move.
“It is a little hard to predict because we should wait and see to what extent media and journalistic circles and NGOs of Western countries will exert pressure to counter Saudi Arabia. At the moment, such pressure exists, but is not predictable that much. It is not clear to what extent these pressures will lead to a change of policy or approach by these countries toward Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“But their approach will definitely change. Even now it has somehow changed. The Western countries’ point of view toward Saudi Arabia is not the same as before the Canada crisis. The crisis between Saudi Arabia and Canada is a clear and unjustifiable example,” he said.
“This behaviour by Saudi Arabia will improve Iran’s image because Iran has never show such reactions to such criticisms from others,” he said.
The former diplomat then mentioned some recommendations regarding Iranian-Saudi relations.
He said the current ruling elite is the best alternative for Iran to have relations with at the moment because whatever regime takes power in Saudi Arabia under the current circumstances, it will be worse that the present one.