From charm offensive to backlash and retaliation

While the charm offensive (see “Surprised and Dismayed” post) was kind of floundering, one country finally decided to take a stance. It had the decency to cancel a defence cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia. Its present government had a problem with the appalling human rights record of Saudi Arabia, including the Badawi and Abulkhair cases.

It did not take long for the backlash and retaliation to start. The Saudi ambassador to Sweden was recalled. The UAE copied this move. The Arab League was deprived of a speech – though they might not have minded this too much.

Now the Saudi government announced it will no longer issue visas to or renew visas of Swedish nationals. This affects applications for business visas, as well as new visas or renewal of visas by all Swedish nationals who want to go or live in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, not being that bright, one wonders: the Saudi government claimed they had nothing to do with the sentencing and punishment of mr Badawi. mr Abulkhair, and many others. They repeatedly stated it was all a Saudi clergy affair. They repeatedly stated they had no influence over the sentencing and punishment of their subjects.

So the Saudi government is not responsible, but the Saudi clergy is clearly to blame for Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights records. So not being that bright, one wonders: why is the Saudi government now breaking off diplomatic relations, stirring up a fuzz and retaliating by no longer issuing nor renewing visas for Swedish persons? If the Saudi government’s hands are perfectly lily-white clean, why pick this fight?

One feels sorry for Sweden. After all, Saudi Arabia – its government, not its clergy – is the biggest customer of Sweden’s arms industry. And the international arms industry is of course closely related to human rights issues. Saudi Arabia – its government, not its clergy – apparently spent a trifling 39 million US dollars in 2014 buying Swedish toys for Saudi military boys.

On the other hand, one wonders who on earth wants to spend time in a country where either its government, or its clergy (or both) meets out the same punishments and applies the same laws and regulations as used by the Islamic State? Who wants to do business with such a country?

The Swedish government, its representatives, and nationals, should be proud they took this stance – at last and despite the heavy toll it is taking made an issue of human rights. Too bad, no other country has the decency to follow this example and brave a bully.

Independent: Saudi Arabian regime ends visas for Swedish nationals in retaliation for human rights criticism

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