Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

EU to mediate in Saudi-Swedish dispute on human rights

  • Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is the world's longest-serving foreign minister (Photo: London Summit)

The League of Arab States has “condemned” Saudi-critical remarks by Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom, leaving EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini to mediate.

The League, an inter-governmental club of 22 states, had earlier invited Wallstrom to speak on women's rights at an event in Cairo on Monday (9 March), but it cancelled her spot a few hours beforehand due to pressure from Saudi Arabia.

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  • Wallstrom was invited as a guest of honour to speak on women's rights (Photo: European Community, 2006)

It also said, according to the Saudi state mouthpiece, SPA, that Arab ministers “expressed their condemnation and surprise of the issuance of such statements, which are incompatible with the truth that the constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on the tolerant Islamic Sharia”.

The dispute surrounds Wallstrom’s criticism of Saudi Arabian treatment of women and its public flogging of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, which Wallstrom recently described as “medieval” in the Swedish parliament.

The league’s statement doesn’t specify which Wallstrom remarks they denounce.

Meanwhile, Wallstrom’s office says they were informed of the announcement Monday evening, but downplayed its significance.

“I believe that you should interpret this as a way for Saudi Arabia to save its face”, Wallstroms press officer told Swedish press.

The EU’s Mogherini will now speak to both Wallstrom and the secretary general of the Arab league, Nabil El Araby, to inform herself of the situation.

“We regret that the Swedish foreign minister was not able to deliver her speech”, Mogherini’s spokesperson told press in Brussels on Tuesday, while underlining the value of joint work with the league “on issues such as human rights and universal freedoms”.

The Swedish-Saudi disagreement comes amid a controversial military co-operation deal between the two states.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven government announced Tuesday evening a decision to step away from the deal.

But the Arab League dispute isn't the reason behind the move, Lofven said. The decision was taken already last week, according to the PM.

The new Swedish government had previously stirred controversy in the Middle East by becoming the first sitting EU country to recognise Palestine.

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