Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was blocked by Saudi Arabia from addressing the Arab League at a Monday gathering of Foreign Ministers at the League’s Cairo headquarters, according to comments by Wallstrom.
The Foreign Minister had been on a two-day visit to Egypt, with a schedule that included meeting Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss developments in the region and bilateral relations.
However, Wallstrom reported that Saudi Arabia blocked her from addressing the Arab League meeting, where she had been invited to speak as a guest of honour by its Secretary General Nabil El-Araby. It is believed that the unusual offer for the European speech was made in light of Sweden’s recent decision to recognise the state of Palestine.
Wallstrom told Swedish public radio in Cairo that the speech was cancelled because of Saudi protests. She said: “They have reacted strongly to what we have said about democracy and human rights.”
Wallstrom has previously spoken out on the flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was convicted of insulting Islam, and criticised the status of women’s rights in the Gulf kingdom.
El-Araby told Daily News Egypt that he met the Swedish FM this morning prior to the Arab League meeting, but did not have a comment on why the FM was denied from speaking.
Spokespersons at the Swedish and Saudi embassies were unavailable for comment.
Wallstrom has reported that they sought to meet Saudi officials for an explanation but were not responded to.
Wallstrom, along with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, has faced criticism recently after it was reported that Sweden would not end a controversial military arms contract with Saudi Arabia.
According to a press release from the Swedish Foreign Ministry, Wallstrom’s speech was due to cover the “situation in the Middle East, the Israel-Palestine conflict as well as the importance of Sweden’s relations with the Arab countries, including trade relations, development cooperation, democracy and human rights.”
A copy of the speech subsequently circulated does not directly reference human rights in any particular Arab country. It said: “Human rights are a priority in Swedish foreign policy. Freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are not only fundamental rights and important tools in the creation of vibrant societies. They are indispensable in the fight against extremism and radicalisation. So is a vibrant civil society.”
With regards to the recognition of Palestine, Wallstrom was due to say: “Some say our recognition was premature. I say it may have been too late. Young women and men in both Palestine and Israel are about to lose hope. They need to see that there is an alternative to violence, to a depressing status quo and to a continuously negative development on the ground.”
This is the second visit of the Swedish Foreign Minister to Egypt since her appointment. The first one was last October 2014 when she attended the Gaza Reconstruction Conference that took place in Cairo.