A pro-government Saudi organization is under fire after posting and deleting a tweet suggesting Canada was inviting a 9/11-style terrorist attack over its criticisms of the Kingdom’s crackdown on dissent.
On Friday, Global Affairs Canada tweeted concern over the Saudis’ arrest of activists, calling on the government to release peaceful advocates for human rights:
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.
The Saudis responded by rejecting the sentiment and suggesting it was an “attack” on the KSA and an attempt to influence their internal affairs.
#Statement | The Canadian position is a grave and unacceptable violation of the Kingdom’s laws and procedures. In addition to violate the Kingdom’s judiciary and a breach of the principle of #sovereignty.
Further, the Kingdom expelled the Canadian ambassador to the country and recalled their ambassador to Canada, also announcing it “would be suspending all new trade and investment transactions with Canada,” CBCreported.
The government’s dramatic reaction to Canada’s call to free peaceful activists escalated Monday when Infographic KSA, described as a pro-government youth organization, tweeted an image of a plane heading toward the Toronto skyline, accompanied by a quote cautioning against interfering in the country’s domestic issues.
The image posted then deleted by Infographic KSA, an organization linked to the Saudi government.
“As the Arabic saying goes: ‘He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him,’” the now deleted image said. Amid the unsurprising backlash, the organization re-posted the image without the plane and denied it was suggesting Canada should be subject to a terror attack. “The aircraft was intended to symbolize the return of the ambassador,” the tweeted, according to CBC. “We realize this was not clear and any other meaning was unintentional.”
The Saudi Ministry of Media shut down the Twitter account, noting it was conducting an investigation. Though Infographic KSA is not part of the government, it “seems to exist solely to turn Saudi government press releases into pretty infographics for social media,” according to Amarnath Amarasingnam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a U.K.-based think-tank with a mission of countering extremism. Amarasingnam said it’s possible the group is connected to the Ministry, though it’s difficult to pinpoint specific ties. The Washington Post notedthat state-run media previously described the Twitter page as an “official government” account, but this was not explicitly verifiable.
The tweet was particularly in poor taste considering the majority of 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens and there is significant evidence members of the Saudi government were involved in the 2001 attack. Further, it is well-documented that the Saudi Kingdom has funded the spread of Wahhabism, a radical faction of Islam, and provided support to the Islamic State.
The country’s harsh reaction to calls to respect human rights and peaceful protest hardly help its reputation, but that seems to matter little as the United States and President Trump refuse to break ties with the country, instead selling them weapons of war that are continuously used to kill civilians in Yemen. Though the government has recently been praised for attempting to make reforms, its ongoing behaviors suggest fundamentally little has changed.