In foreign affairs, officials in Western and other Arab capitals say, Prince Mohammed has exacerbated tensions in an unstable region. He launched a military intervention in Yemen that has become a quagmire, led a campaign to isolate and blockade neighboring Qatar, and took a more confrontational stance toward Iran.

In interviews, Prince Mohammed and other Saudi officials have stood up for the new approach, saying that the kingdom needs to play a more assertive role in shaping its region. The Ritz crackdown was needed to send a strong message against corruption, they said, and Iran’s revolutionary ambitions had to be stopped, a view that has found support with the leaders of the United States and Israel.

For decades, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Western countries rested on trade, with the kingdom selling huge amounts of oil while buying billions of dollars in weapons.

The kingdom, an absolute monarchy whose legal system is based on the strict enforcement of Sharia, or Islamic law, has long faced complaints over its draconian judicial practices, including beheading criminals and imprisoning people who criticize the government.

The United States, a major Saudi trading partner, has occasionally criticized the Saudis on human rights but without jeopardizing its economic interests. Even such toothless criticism has largely dried up under the Trump administration.

Such complaints were historically handled quietly, and the Saudis usually ignored them.

The dispute with Canada broke that pattern.

After the arrest of two women’s rights activists last week, Chrystia Freeland, the foreign minister of Canada, called for the release of one of them, Samar Badawi, as well as the release of her brother, Raif Badawi, a blogger who was already serving a long prison term for administering a website that criticized the country’s religious establishment.

Orignially published in NYT.

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