Trudeau was elected by promising “real change,” including cancelling Harper’s fighter jet contracts and pulling Canada out of Harper’s war in Iraq. Nearly three months later, Canadian jets continue to bomb Iraq and the Liberal government refuses to cancel Harper’s $15 billion arms deal to the Saudi dictatorship that just executed 47 people- including Sheik Nimr al-Nimr. The regime also arrested his teenage nephew as well, who has been tortured and threatened with execution.
While the government sent out a small and useless press release raising “concern” about the mass execution, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion made it clear the government is more concerned about profiting from repression: “Almost all of our allies are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. It’s part of the world in which we live.”
Al-Nimr and the Arab Spring
The Arab Spring erupted in 2011 to change the world in which we live, and Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a key activist in protests that spread to Saudi Arabia. The regime’s attack on him and others only increased resistance and unity. As socialist.ca reported at the time, “According to activists, security forces shot Nimr in an attempt to assassinate him. He was injured and then arrested by Saudi police. Pictures of him covered with a blood-stained white blanket in a police car were circulated in social media. Hundreds of outraged protesters occupied Qatif Roundabout and flooded surrounding streets. Saudi security forces opened fire. Two protestors, Akbar Shakouri from Awamiya and Mohamed Filfil from Qatif, were killed…More than 30,000 demonstrators participated in the funeral of Muhamed Filfil chanting ‘Down with Al-Saud.’ The ruling class in Saudi Arabia is threatened by a deep movement against oppression that unites people under the famous chant “No Sunni, no Shia, we are all brothers.”
The regime claimed that al-Nimr was a terrorist, and initially threatened him with crucifixion. But his real crime in the eyes of the regime was fighting for peace and justice. As socialist.ca reported, “Closely observing Al-Nemr speeches in the past couple of years since the Arab Spring began, it's clear all his demands have been social justice, equality and an end to oppression. In all pro-democracy protests in Qatif, Al-Nemr was in the frontline encouraging men and women to fight for their rights. He strongly opposed all the dictatorships in the Arab region, including the Western backed Saudi monarchy.”
That’s why the Saudi regime executed him, and that’s why Canada and the West continues to arm Saudi Arabia. The West uses the dictatorship to crush dissent in the region: bombing Yemen, sending troops to Bahrain to uphold the regime that houses the US Fifth Fleet, and arming sectarian groups in Syria and Iraq.
The executions were also a way for the Saudi ruling class to deflect attention from a worsening economy and an unprecedented austerity drive that has fuelled opposition within the country. In December of 2015 the Saudis released a budget with major cuts to subsidies for fuel, utilities and water and have called for privatization of health care and education.
This is a country reliant on increasingly declining oil revenues. Military spending—including billions spent on prosecuting the war on Yemen—has drained the ruling family’s war chest and the recent lifting of sanctions on regional rival Iran has created a huge amount of uncertainty about the future economic prospects in the oil rich nation. This is going to fuel more opposition and an even more volatile mix of economic and military factors in the region.
It’s this counter-revolution, the Western-backed defeat of revolution in Egypt and Syria, that gave rise to ISIS, which the West then used as an excuse to launch yet another war on Iraq—which is only fueling the misery on which ISIS depends. Canada had a long history of arms sales to Saudi Arabia under both Conservative and Liberal governments, and Trudeau has signaled he has no intention of this changing.
During the federal election last fall, Harper defended the arms deal as a job provider, saying “I don’t think it makes any sense to pull a contract in a way that would only punish Canadian workers.” But Harper did nothing in 2012 to stop Caterpillar from selling off Electro-Motive Diesel, the London plant that built trains for 60 years—leading to the loss of 600 good green jobs. Now the plant that once made trains has been leased to General Dynamics, the corporations making armoured vehicles.
Keep demanding real change
The Liberals are claiming the contract can’t be challenged, but that hasn’t stopped people from mobilizing. Hundreds rallied on Parliament Hill last week to demand real change from the Liberal government. “We’re here today to ask the government to rethink its policy when it comes to Saudi Arabia. The hypocrisy has to stop,” said Asad Jafri. “They killed our leader, our scholar al-Nimr, for no reason, and our government is quiet? The deal speaks more loudly than their words. It’s a shame, it’s upsetting, especially when Trudeau’s platform was all about change.”
The huge desire for change hasn’t gone away, and the increasing Liberal hypocrisy can fuel more demands. Trudeau hasn’t yet been in power for three months and he has already seen two climate justice protests and a rally against the arms deals. Trudeau should cancel the arms deal and redirect investment into good green jobs.
Sign the Canadian Peace Alliance petition to stop the war, welcome refugees and cancel the $15 billion arms deal