Critics: Saudi arms deal does not square with feminist foreign policy

2:33 min

The government faces mounting criticism over its refusal to commit to scrapping Sweden's arms deal with Saudi Arabia - despite having professed a commitment to a feminist foreign policy.

Such a policy doesn't go hand in hand with dealing with a dictatorship that suppresses women's rights, critics say.

When Margot Wallström took the post as Minister for Foreign Affairs last fall, she said that the new government would practice a "feminist foreign policy". And addressing parliament Wednesday in a foreign policy debate, Wallström said that she aimed to "work against the discrimination of women, to improve conditions for women, and to contribute to peace and development".

But members of the opposition as well as members from both parties within the Social Democrat-Green Party government have spoken out against Sweden's arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which is described as one of the world's most austere dictatorships. Critics say that dealing with Saudi Arabia is not in line with a feminist foreign policy.

Carl Schlyter, a Green Party MP, said the government should pull out of the deal altogether.

"We have clearly stated what kind of foreign policy we want," said Schlyter. "We have stated what our view is on women, democracy and peace. And this deal goes against all of the basic elements of our agreement. So for me, the conclusion is clear as day."

In Wednesday's parliamentary debate, both the Left Party and the Liberal Party criticized the arms deal and called for Sweden to pull out.

But Prime Minister Stefan Löfven had previously said that the deal will be re-negotiated and, in parliament this week, Margot Wallström wouldn't give a clear indication as to what direction she thinks the government should take.

"Let's let the government handle this issue and we'll return to it shortly," said Wallström.

The Saudi arms deal was put into place in 2005, and the current government has until May this year either to pull out or renegotiate. Because the deal is only renegotiated every five years, it may end up being extended until 2020.

The deal gives Sweden the right to sell weapons to the Saudis. It also obliges Swedes to develop and build weapon technologies.

The Green Party has long opposed the military cooperation, but their partners in government the Social Democrats, have traditionally been considered friendly to the defense industry.

Walter Mutt, the Greens' foreign policy spokesperson, said that it is unacceptable for Sweden to continue the deal.

"As I see it, conducting a feminist foreign policy is not compatible with legitimizing a country like Saudi Arabia, which systematically discriminates against women," said Mutt.