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The Canada-Saudi Arabia Conflict: A Student Guide

Written by Connor Briggs-Morris

Canada and Saudi Arabia…well, that escalated quickly.

It started out as a simple tweet from a Canadian politician condemning the imprisonment of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia. Seemingly overnight, it quickly escalated into a full-blown diplomatic crisis. Now, Saudi Arabia has pulled all of their students from Canadian schools.

Feeling out of the loop? Here’s the quick guide to what’s going on right now in Canada, and how this is already affecting students.

What’s going on?

All it took to ignite this whole conflict was a single tweet. Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland took to Twitter and called for Saudi Arabia to release recently-arrested women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, as well as her brother, Raif, who has been imprisoned since 2012 for blogging against Islam. This issue is of particular significance to Canada as Raif’s wife Ensaf Haidar has lived here since his arrest.

The tweet’s message was further supported through other official channels, including the Canadian embassy in Saudi Arabia. At some point, the kingdom took notice and they were not happy. Thinking Canada had no place to meddle in their domestic affairs, they acted quickly to retaliate.

In addition to expelling the Canadian ambassador, freezing trade, stopping state flights, and halting investments, they also notably rescinded all scholarships for their students to study in Canada.

What does it mean for students?

In broader terms, this is a growing diplomatic crisis. There could be wide-ranging political and economic effects for both countries as a result of this spat. For students and schools, the impact is a little more specific.

Sources estimate that there are around 16,000 Saudi students in Canada, making it a massive source of foreign students. The King Abdullah scholarship would cover things like tuition, flights, and living expenses for these students. Now, those privileges are being revoked in Canada as students are looking to other countries like USA, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore to keep studying.

Frankly, this sucks for everyone. It sucks for the schools who are now going to have less students than they thought. It sucks for the hospitals who were counting on the medical students to contribute. Most of all, it sucks for the students who now have to scramble to figure out plans for next year and quickly, before they miss out on their next term.

The conflict doesn’t appear to be ending soon. Saudi Arabia recently demanded an apology and Justin Trudeau instead replied with an affirmation that “Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly, firmly and politely about the need to respect human rights around the world. We will continue to stand up for Canadian values and human rights.

Unfortunately the price of taking such a noble stance means some innocent students are going to have to suffer the consequences. Hopefully the whole situation resolves itself, but it doesn’t look like that’ll happen before the school year starts.


Listening is the new reading.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.