The Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Sweden was recalled today after the Swedish Foreign Minister criticised the Kingdom on issues of reform and human rights.
Photo: Swedish Foreign Minister – Margot Wallstorm had called Saudi Arabia a dictatorship last month, and denounced its treatment of women. She also condemned Riyadh’s sentencing of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi – lashed 1000 times. Spokesman for Swedish Foreign Ministery said on Wednesday: “We have received information that Saudi Arabia has called its ambassador home.”
Wallstrom was barred from giving a speech to the Arab League in Cairo earlier, after protests from the Saudi delegates. At the end of the meeting, Arab foreign ministers expressed “condemnation and astonishment” at Wallstrom’s remarks, which were “incompatible with the fact that the constitution of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia.” According to a statement in Gulf News : “Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity. The ministers consider her comments as irresponsible and unacceptable.”
The Independent reports:
Saudi Arabia bought some $39 million in Swedish military equipment last year alone. The kingdom recently became the world’s biggest arms importer; it’s Sweden’s third-largest non-Western customer for weapons.
That Sweden’s centre-left government has chosen to risk that sort of investment — and the ire of prominent business leaders at home — marks an important moment. For decades, Saudi Arabia’s vast energy reserves and strategic position in the Middle East have led Western countries to politely skirt around the issue of the kingdom’s draconian religious laws and woeful human rights record.
“This shows a break in the 50-year view in the West of ‘We can’t touch Saudi Arabia,'” said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Institute of Gulf Affairs, which is often critical of internal Saudi policies.
The double-standard in Western attitudes toward Saudi Arabia has looked particularly glaring in the past year. After the Islamic State began decapitating American hostages in its custody, Saudi Arabia — a key ally in the US-led coalition against the jihadists — carried out beheadings of inmates on death row.
American politicians routinely hurl invective against Iran, accusing the Islamic Republic of fomenting terrorism abroad and maintaining a tyranny at home. But Saudi Arabia has an even less democratic system than that in Tehran, and as the chief incubator of orthodox Salafism, has played its own unique role in the rise of fundamentalist terror groups around the Middle East and South Asia.
Sweden’s Wallstrom, meanwhile, has emerged as an outspoken figure, not averse to taking moral stands. The Saudis apparently were concerned about her remarks because last year, Sweden became one the most high-profile European countries to officially recognize Palestine as an independent state. Wallstrom said at the time that the move was intended to “support those who believe in negotiations and not violence,” but it was widely interpreted as a rebuke to the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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