Saudi Arabia has reacted angrily to criticism from the Swedish foreign minister, who accused the Gulf state of being a 'dictatorship'
The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday recalled their ambassador to Sweden over criticism made by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash also summoned Sweden’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi to protest “abusive remarks” against Saudi Arabia and its judicial system, according to the Emirates official news agency WAM.
The spat between Saudi Arabia and Sweden began on 9 March when Wallstrom accused Riyadh of blocking a speech she was due to give at the Arab League, in which the Swedish foreign minister planned to raise human rights and gender equality issues.
Wallstrom has – speaking in the Swedish parliament – described Saudi Arabia as a “dictatorship” that violates women’s rights and whips bloggers. Sweden has been a strong critic of the sentence against Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger jailed for 10 years in Saudi Arabia on charges that included “insulting Islam”.
Sweden responded to Wallstrom’s speech being barred at the Arab League by cancelling a lucrative defence agreement with Saudi Arabia, which had involved the sale of $567mn in arms deals since 2011.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are Gulf neighbours and have worked together closely to respond to the challenges brought about by the Arab uprisings since 2011, although traditionally they have been more rivals than allies in the region.
Emirati minister Anwar Gargash said the Swedish minister’s criticisms constituted a violation of Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty.
“These statements violate the principle of sovereignty upon which the normal relations between countries are based,” Gargash said, according to WAM. “Such remarks are deemed interference in internal affairs as they do not respect the religious and cultural particularities of states and communities".
On 11 March Saudi Arabia withdrew their ambassador to Sweden, Ibrahim bin Saad al-Ibrahim, over Wallstrom’s criticism, and today Riyadh summoned the Swedish ambassador to discuss the matter further.
Margot Wallstrom became Sweden’s foreign minister in October 2014 and pledged to make human rights and a feminist foreign policy central tenets of her time in office.
Wallstrom is expected to attend a meeting of business leaders in Sweden on Thursday, aimed at allaying any fears about the trade impact of the spat with Saudi Arabia.
“We’ve invited company leaders who have business in the Gulf region to a meeting because of the fact that Sweden ended its military cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia,” Ann Wolgers, spokesperson for Sweden’s Enterprise Ministry, told AFP.
“There are a lot of questions around what happens now and there’s a certain amount of concern among business leaders. When the [Enterprise] Minister Mikael Damberg saw this he decided to organise a meeting so they can ask questions".
Some Swedish business leaders have criticised the handling of the issue and warned that the cancellation of the country’s long-standing defence agreement with Saudi Arabia could have far-reaching consequences.
“If you make an enemy of the Arab League it can cause very major damage,” Leif Johansson, chairman of telecoms group Ericsson, told business daily Dagens Industri this week.