UAE ambassador recalled - opposition critical

The United Arab Emirates recalls its Stockholm ambassador due to Foreign Minister Margot Wallström's criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record. And the opposition is critical of how the government has handled things.

Commenting on the decision to recall the ambassador, Wallström's press secretary Erik Boman told the tabloid Aftonbladet: "We regret this of course. We have good and broad relations with the United Arab Emirates which we want to protect and develop."

In a statement, the Foreign Minister of the UAE, Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash, said they had made their decision because the Foreign Minister's "strong statements ... against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its judicial system".

Erik Boman noted that "Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have a particularly close relationship, so we should perhaps not draw any exaggerated conclusions from this". But he added that the Swedish Foreign Office is working to re-build the relationship with Saudi Arabia, and that they hope to solve things as soon as possible.

But the foreign policy spokesperson of Sweden's biggest opposition party, Karin Enström of the Moderates, told the news agency TT that she finds it worrying that another ambassador is recalled. "We need to be able to talk to everybody, maybe in particular those that we are critical of. I see this as a risk that our voice is not heard, and is further weakened. We need good relations. That is the foundation of diplomacy and that is the foundation for being able to make a difference," Enström said.

The Moderates are not pleased about how the government has handled relations with Saudi Arabia and other countries.
"Sweden should be a clear voice in support of human rights. We think democracy is self evident and very important. What we are criticising is that is seems to have been handled badly," she said.

Last week, on the same day that the government announced that it would terminate the military co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia, the Saudi envoy to Stockholm was recalled. The reason given then was the comment's Margot Wallström had made about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

In January, Saudi Arabia's chargé d'affaires to the Foreign Office in Stockholm to receive a protest against the country's public flogging of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for insulting islam. At the time, Wallström told Swedish media that Sweden had to protest against the use of "almost medieval methods".

The first clear sign that Saudi Arabia did not like this came last Monday, when Wallström was blocked from giving a speech at an Arab League meeting in Cairo. The League, which originally had invited her as a guest of honour, then agreed to condemn her for her remarks.