Manama: Saudi Arabia has confirmed that it had recalled its ambassador to Sweden to protest against “blatant interference in its domestic affairs”.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia considers the offensive remarks made by Sweden's Foreign Minister as a blatant interference in its domestic affairs,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
“These remarks are against international conventions and diplomatic norms and do not conform to the friendly relations between the countries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia therefore recalls its ambassador to the Kingdom of Sweden,” the official said.
Osama Naqli, the Saudi foreign ministry spokesperson, insisted on his Twitter account that his country did not interfere in Sweden’s internal affairs, saying that Riyadh was keen on its values and principles based on the Islamic Sharia.
“Sweden interfered in the domestic affairs of Saudi Arabia and we responded,” he said. “The Islamic Sharia does not need a certificate of good behaviour from Sweden or from anybody else,” he said, local news site Al Marsad reported.
The rift between the two countries deepened after Sweden cancelled a military cooperation deal ostensibly in response to a successful drive by Saudi Arabia to prevent Foreign Minister Margot Wallström from making a speech at the Arab League on Monday.
Wallström said that Saudi officials had stopped her from making her opening address to an Arab League meeting in Cairo due to her stance on human rights.
However, the Arab League rejected the claim and said that the foreign ministers meeting in Cairo had voiced their condemnation and astonishment at the issuance of such statements that are incompatible with the fact that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on Sharia.
“Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity. The ministers consider the comments as irresponsible and unacceptable,” the Arab League statement said.
Wallström's press secretary Erik Boman told Swedish daily The Local on Tuesday that the statement “should be interpreted as a way of Saudi Arabia trying to save face.”
“It is one of very many statements on different issues released by the Arab League after a meeting – by tradition they do that kind of thing,” he said.
But while Saudis seemed to support the stance of their country in the deepening standoff, arguing that they did not start it and that Riyadh never allowed itself to criticise other countries, Swedish media reported that a “sharp debate has broken out in Sweden after the government's decision to end a controversial military co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia.”
Sweden has been selling arms to Saudi Arabia for decades, but the deal on military cooperation, signed in 2005 and renewed in 2010, is being strongly debated in the Nordic nation and has caused divisions within the Social Democrat-Green coalition government, The Local reported.
The leader of the Swedish Left Party Jonas Sjöstedt referred to the news to end the deal as a “victory” on Tuesday and wrote on Twitter: “Credible feminist politics demanded this.”
But former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt sharply criticised the government.
"This is not least about Sweden's credibility as a contractual partner. That credibility is important to a relatively small country like Sweden,” he wrote on his blog. “What has happened is unfortunate. Sweden has been damaged.”
Leif Johansson, chairman of Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson, warned that the decision could harm Sweden's trade relations.
“If you make yourself the enemy of the Arab League it could cause very great damage,” he reportedly told newspaper Dagens Industri. “But we don't know how this will play out until after a few years, it depends completely on how we manage to patch up our relations with these countries.”
However, according to The Local, Saudi Arabia researcher Thord Janson at Gothenburg University said he did not think the scrapped deal would have a long term effect on Swedish trade.