Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom Saudi
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom described Saudi Arabia as a dictatorship. Reuters

Saudi Arabia said on 19 March 2015 it will not issue any new visas for Swedish business people, in retaliation for comments made by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström.

Diplomatic ties between both countries have been severed since Sweden accused Saudi Arabia of blocking Wallström from speaking at an Arab League meeting earlier this month. However, her cancelled remarks were published by the Swedish foreign ministry. While they did not mention Saudi Arabia, Wallström's statement stressed women and human rights.

In retaliation, the Scandinavian country then said it would not renew a lucrative defence cooperation deal with the oil-rich Middle Eastern Kingdom because of its poor record for democracy and civil liberties.

The diplomatic row between Sweden and Saudi Arabia over military ties and human rights escalated on 11 March when Riyadh recalled its ambassador from Stockholm.

Remarks 'degrading to Saudi Arabia'

Dozens of other Arab nations criticized Sweden's decision, soon after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden and accused the Nordic country of "flagrant interference in internal affairs".

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which represents 57 Muslim nations, released a statement in which it accused Wallström of "degrading Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions".

Margot Wallström's diplomatic fallouts

  • After her government recognised Palestine as a state in 2014, the Israelis withdrew their ambassador. She is still not welcome in the country.
  • In support of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger flogged by his government last month, she tweeted: "This cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression has to be stopped."
  • Following the death of Boris Nemtsov, Wallström condemned the murder as part of Vladimir Putin's "reign of terror". In return, Russia blamed Sweden for its supposed responsibility for the war in Ukraine.

"The world community, with its multiple cultures, diverse social norms, rich and varied ethical standards and different institutional structures, can not, and should not, be based on a single and centric perspective that seeks to remake the world in its own image," the statement continued.

Business could be affected

There have been growing concerns from within Sweden's business community that Sweden's increasingly strained ties with the oil rich nation would affect business in the Arab world.

On 18 March the government announced that 50 companies have been invited to discuss the issue with ministers.

"We hope that visa operations will resume," Erik Boman, a spokesperson for Sweden's Foreign Ministry, said on 19 March. "We are working as quickly as possible to resolve this bilateral issue between Sweden and Saudi Arabia and would like to have continued good relations."