Sweden falls out with Israel over Palestinians – and with Saudi-Arabia over Gender

“The enemies of our enemies are our enemies” – this seems to be the guiding principle of Sweden’s foreign policy since a new Minister for foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, came into office at the end of last year.

Sweden is a non-aligned country, and as a consequence of this traditionally plays a great role as a mediator in international conflicts. In just a few months, she the new minister has managed to jeopardize the country’s previously friendly diplomatic relations both with Israel and the Arab world. Mrs. Wallström, a Social Democrat with strong ideological convictions is a former EU-Commissioner – and the only member of the current Swedish government with prior governmental experience.

But prior experience apparently is no guarantee for success. One of the first steps taken by Mrs. Wallström when assuming her new function was to ensure that Sweden became the first EU country to formally recognize the Palastinian Authority as an independent and sovereign state – which immediately led to a severe deterioration of diplomatic relations between Sweden and Israel.

One might have expected that, to compensate for this, Sweden would at least have made some new friends in the Arab/Muslim world. But that’s not what happened. The next country with which Mrs. Wallström has seriously undermined relations is Saudi-Arabia. The reason is that she has decided that the new foreign policy priority of her country is … the promotion of “Gender Equality”, including for homosexuals, lesbians, and transgender persons.

Mrs. Wallström had been invited as honorary guest to the Arab League summit in Cairo in order to explain her policy on Palestine. But when it became known that her speech was going to address gender equality issues rather than Palestine, Ryadh intervened to ensure that the invitation was withdrawn.

This led to angry reactions in Stockholm, where the Swedish government announced the cancellation of a controversial decade-long arms deal with the Saudi Kingdom. In return, the Saudis recalled their ambassador to Stockholm citing Sweden’s “flagrant interference” in their internal affairs, and further on mobilized the 22-member Arab League (AL) as well as the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in vocal condemnation of the Swedish government, so much so that even the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi regional ally, summoned its ambassador to Sweden too. In a rare escalation shortly afterwards, the Kingdom declared on 19 March that it would no longer issue business visas for Swedes or extend the current visas of Swedish nationals staying in the country.