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Harper's fawning over House of Saud

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Making money and monarchy are two of the Conservative's favourite things.

This could certainly explain Ottawa's continued minion-like fawning over Saudi Arabia's House of Saud.

Last week new Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson continued a Harper government tradition of lauding deceased Saudi royalty. In a release the MP from Niagara Falls said he was "deeply saddened to learn of the passing of His Royal Highness Prince Saud Al-Faisal" and "impressed by his distinguished career serving the people of Saudi Arabia."

Of course, Nicholson omitted any mention of the former Saudi foreign minister's efforts to undermine the Arab Spring democracy movement or arm the fundamentalist opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, which has led to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Apparently, playing the sycophant to emperors with lots of clothes comes easily to Harper's Conservatives

At the start of this year the Prime Minister's Office released a statement after King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz passed away. In a slap to the face of reformers inside Saudi Arabia and throughout the region, Harper described the King as a "strong proponent of peace in the Middle East" who "undertook a range of important economic, social, education, health, and infrastructure initiatives." To add to the statement's effect, the prime minister dispatched Governor General David Johnston to offer Canada's condolences, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $175,000.

While they've occasionally released statements when former officials die elsewhere, the Harper government has made it commonplace with the Saudi royalty. In 2012, then Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird praised a deceased prince for "dedicat[ing] his life to the security and prosperity of the people of Saudi Arabia" while a year earlier he described another prince as "a man of great achievement who dedicated his life to the well-being of its people."

Secret Saudi government documents released by WikiLeaks last month provide further evidence of the Conservatives' effort to suck-up to the deep-pocketed ruling family. An April, 2012, memo to King Abdullah foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal recounted a meeting between then defence minister Peter MacKay and Saudi officials in Ottawa. "The honourable minister [MacKay] expressed his appreciation for the major leading role played by the kingdom on the international arena. … He emphasized Canada's desire to develop relations with the kingdom in all fields," Prince Saud wrote.

It would all be kind of funny except that as part of courting the ruling family, the Conservatives have backed the Saudi's recent military interventions in the region. Just after being named foreign affairs minister, in March of this year Nicholson endorsed the Saudi assault on Yemen. "Canada supports the military action by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] partners and others to defend Saudi Arabia's border," he said. On a number of occasions over the past four months, Canadian officials have echoed Riyadh's justifications for bombing Yemen, which has left more than 1,500 civilians dead and displaced one million more.

When pro-democracy protests swept the region in 2011, Riyadh deployed over a thousand troops into neighbouring Bahrain to prop up the 200-year-old al-Khalifa monarchy. This author could find no direct Canadian criticism of Saudi Arabia's role in crushing the democracy movement there. Rather, the Harper government has strengthened the Saudi capacity to invade and dominate its neighbours.

Over the next decade General Dynamics Land Systems Canada will supply $15 billion worth of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military. The Harper government pushed the deal and the Crown-owned Canadian Commercial Corporation is responsible for the sale.

When they entered Bahrain in 2011 Saudi forces likely used Canadian built LAVs' and some of the Saudi pilots now bombing Yemen were likely trained in Saskatchewan or Alberta. Beginning in 2011 Saudi pilots began training in Moose Jaw and Cold with NATO's Flying Training in Canada (NFTC). Dubbed "the benchmark for military flying training," NFTC is run by the Canadian Forces and CAE. The Montréal based flight simulator company also trains Royal Saudi Air Force pilots in the Middle East.

The ironic spectacle of toadying Tories aside, fawning over one of the world's most repressive regimes disgraces Canadians and makes life more difficult for those in the region seeking peace and democracy.

Image: Flickr/DFATD | MAECD

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