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Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In recent days, Saudi Arabia has thrown a fit over Canada's call for the release of recently-jailed activist Samar Badawi, an outspoken champion of women’s rights.

Between the lines: By the standards of the old pantomime act in which Western governments criticize Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record but more or less leave the energy-rich and strategically aligned kingdom alone, Canada’s statement hardly stands out. So why the furious response?

The latest...

  • Riyadh has kicked out the Canadian ambassador, recalled its own envoy, cancelled flights between the two countries, and put a freeze on new bilateral trade and investment.
  • A pro-government youth club went so far as to post (but then remove) an image that seemed to threaten Canada with a 9/11 style terrorist attack. 

The bigger picture...

First, there’s a domestic angle. Saudi Arabia’s young Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman is liberalizing parts of Saudi society as part of a broader bid to attract foreign investment and reduce his country’s dependence on oil revenues. 

  • But as part of that plan, he’s staged a power grab and crushed dissent to minimize challenges from rival princes or from conservative circles who hate what he’s up to. This, for example, explains why Prince Mohamed sees no contradiction in allowing women to drive while also arresting the women who have campaigned for allowing women to drive. 
  • By lashing out at Canada – a country big enough to matter, but small enough not to risk any serious fallout – he is sending a signal: external criticism is now just as off-limits as internal criticism. 

Second, there’s an external angle: the Trump effect. Just to be clear, the US has never – under any administration -- really put the screws to Saudi Arabia (or any other Sunni Arab allies) over human rights. But no modern US President has been as unapologetically uninterested in human rights issues as Donald Trump. 

  • At the same time, Trump has signaled he is firmly in Saudi Arabia’s corner when it comes to the Kingdom’s key foreign policy objective, which is to crush Iran. Where Obama’s embrace of the Arab Spring and the Islamic Republic raised fears in Riyadh, Trump has set the House of Saud at ease. 

What to watch: Will Trump intervene on behalf of “very weak and dishonest” Justin Trudeau? Doubtful. And while Ottawa and Riyadh will probably eventually work this all out, other authoritarians will surely take notice that on Trump’s watch there’s room to be tougher at home and pricklier abroad.

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Go deeper

Federal judge orders Trump administration to restore DACA

DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a chance to petition for protection from deportation.

Why it matters: DACA was implemented under former President Obama, but President Trump has sought to undo the program since taking office. Friday’s ruling will require Department of Homeland Security officers to begin accepting applications starting Monday and guarantee that work permits are valid for two years.

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Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate

Golden Gate Park. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty

Counties around the San Francisco Bay Area will adopt California’s new regional stay-at-home order amid surges in cases and ICU hospitalizations, health officials said Friday.

The big picture: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-week stay-at-home order on Thursday that would go into effect in regions with less than 15% ICU capacity. Despite the Bay Area’s current 25.3% ICU capacity, health officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are moving ahead with a shelter-in-place mandate in the hopes of reducing risk.

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