Criticism against Saudi Arabia has increased in Sweden after Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallström told reporters that her speech meant to “celebrate women’s achievements” was censured at the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo. “It’s a shame that a country has blocked my participation.”
According to her, the explanation she was given is because “Sweden has highlighted the situation of democracy and human rights, and that is why they do not want me to speak.”
In recent times, Saudi Arabia has been under pressure to loosen the rules hindering Saudi women’s freedom and its Sharia law has also been under scrutiny by Human rights group.
Wallström, invited as the guest of honor of the Arab League meeting, said Saudi Arabia “reacted strongly” on Stockholm’s position on democracy and human rights and blocked her speech. She had criticized Riyadh for the “medieval” punishment ruled against the Saudi blogger Raef Badawi who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes in public and a decade in prison for insulting Islam.
The diplomatic tussle came at a time when the important memorandum of understanding that facilitates defense cooperation between the two countries is about to expire in May.
Some politicians are stressing that the MoU, which was so far automatically renewed every five years, must not be extended because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Saudi Arabia is Sweden’s fourth biggest export market for arms and defense equipment outside the EU and in 2014 total exports to the kingdom were worth around £900m, according to Dagens Industri, a financial daily.
Some politicians who are describing the blockade of the Foreign Minister’s speech as a humiliation are lobbying against the renewal of the MoU while some others fear the negative impact of such a move on trade cooperation with the oil rich kingdom.