Saudi Arabia appears to threaten Canada in Tweet

Summit in Brussels

Saudi Arabia responded to the criticism with an array of sanctions that included suspending flights to Canada, expelling the Canadian ambassador, freezing all business between the two countries and terminating its student exchange program.

Saudi Arabia's media ministry is investigating the incident, which came as tensions between the two countries escalated.

The fallout is a result of a tweet from Global Affairs Canada calling for the kingdom to immediately release jailed human rights activists.

In response, Saudi Arabia - which has received $89 billion in arms from the United States in the past decade - expelled the Canadian ambassador and vowed to shut down all trade with the largest English-speaking country on earth.

"We are always going to speak up for human rights, we are always going to speak up for women's rights and that is not going to change", Freeland said.

Regardless of how allies and others are perceiving the measure, it has rallied support among Saudis, said Momani, adding that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has a very young nationalistic base, many of whom have taken to Twitter to celebrate the decision and simultaneously criticize Canada.

Universities across Canada are scrambling to get information after Saudi Arabia suspended scholarships to Canada and planned to relocate its students already in the country.

The image reminded many social media users of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in which planes were deliberately flown into the World Trade Center towers in NY and the Pentagon.

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Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 for running a blog that promoted free speech and women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

University Canada is working with Ottawa to do a deeper analysis on the statement from the Saudi Arabia government, and the provincial Department of Labour and Advanced Education is also looking into the matter. Saudi authorities accused Ottawa of interfering with its internal affairs.

But is worldwide criticism enough to improve human rights in the kingdom?

The accounts, which are followed by a number of Saudi diplomatic figures, are verified and largely share government announcements and pro-Riyadh messages.

Saudi Arabian crude and equivalents accounted for just nine per cent of Canada's crude imports in 2016, according to figures from Natural Resources Canada. Freeland said the embassy in Saudi Arabia is still in place and providing services to Canadians.

Media captionSaudi Arabia's permanent representative to the United Nations confirmed the change in policy What has the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Canada been like in the past?

"It would be a shame for those students if they are deprived of the opportunity to study here", Freeland told reporters.

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