It’s Open Season In Saudi Arabia on Everything Canadian

(Bloomberg) -- It’s open season in the Saudi media for all things Canadian.

The kingdom’s rulers this week set the two nations off on a diplomatic and trade brawl, and now journalists have been shoved into the ring.

Al Riyadh daily published a cartoon showing a red maple leaf dropping between the bare legs of a man wearing bright red socks and shiny black shoes, with the caption, “The fig leaf has fallen.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gained attention for his loud footwear.

The accompanying article quoting various analysts claimed Canada was spreading chaos in Saudi ally Egypt, burnishing the image of terrorists and offering shelter to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group that opposes absolute monarchies and is banned in Saudi Arabia.

A spat triggered by Ottawa’s call for the release of women’s rights activists detained in Saudi Arabia has rapidly escalated. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi king’s son and de facto ruler of the world’s biggest oil exporter, moved to expel the Canadian ambassador, freeze new trade deals, unload assets in Canada and cancel direct flights to Toronto by the state airline.

The U.S. is now trying to do behind-the-scenes damage control after being caught off guard, according to a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the meantime, other Saudi media -- privately owned but government-guided -- have joined in the Canada-bashing.

Al Arabiya TV alleged that Canadian jails are packed because of delays in trials. It also claimed excessive force is used against inmates, food and health services are bad and there’s no law that bans the detention of children.

Homelessness and racism are widespread in Canada, pictures in Al Riyadh newspaper purported to show. In another article, a headline in the paper claimed the kingdom’s decision to freeze relations with Canada had “caused confusion” among companies with 100 billion riyals ($26.7 billion) in Saudi-related investments.

Saudi Arabia’s central bank and pension funds have already begun selling Canadian assets, according to people familiar with the matter, but in Canada businesses don’t appear overly worried.

A writer in Al Hayat newspaper said in a piece published Thursday that Ottawa cannot accept it has failed to match an economically superior Saudi Arabia.

Canadian “hypocrisy is evident in the government’s dealings with its indigenous people who suffer from drug abuse, racism and social discrimination and who undoubtedly have been subjected to the most extreme levels of violence, from murder to homelessness and other indignities.”

One Twitter user who responded to the Saudi assault was Jordan Peterson, a Toronto psychology professor whom Al Arabiya claimed was a political prisoner. He tweeted a photo of himself Thursday lounging in a leather chair: “Help! I’m being held prisoner in Canada.”

“And, in case it’s not clear. I am no fan of the Saudi state. I think we should refuse all their oil, as of now. We have plenty in Alberta,” he added in another tweet.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.