Sweden’s defence minister on Monday called Saudi Arabia a dictatorship, five months after her predecessor resigned amid controversy over Swedish plans to help the country build an arms factory.
“Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian regime and an absolute monarchy, where serious human rights crimes are committed,” Defence Minister Karin Enstroem wrote in an email to Swedish news agency TT, a copy of which was given to AFP.
“The (Swedish) government does not qualify countries as democracies or dictatorships, but if the only choices to describe Saudi Arabia are as a democracy or dictatorship, then Saudi Arabia has to be described as a dictatorship,” she wrote.
The minister, a member of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s conservative Moderate Party, had been widely criticised for refusing to describe Riyadh as a dictatorship, limiting herself, as she did on Swedish Radio earlier Monday, to calling it “a very authoritarian regime”.
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt meanwhile wrote on Twitter on Monday that “I usually describe Saudi Arabia as an absolute monarchy.”
Enstroem’s predecessor resigned in late March after weeks of controversy over revelations that Sweden planned to help Saudi Arabia build an arms factory.
The project involved creating a shell company to handle dealings with Saudi Arabia, in order to avoid any direct links to the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) and the government.
Sweden has in the past sold weapons to Riyadh, but classified government documents stated that the project “pushes the boundaries of what is possible for a Swedish authority… in a dictatorship such as Saudi Arabia,” Swedish Radio said when it broke the story on March 6.
Swedish prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into the affair.
Saudi Arabia has long been Sweden’s most important trade partner in the Middle East. Swedish exports to the country totalled 12 billion kronor (1.48 billion euros, $1.8 billion) in 2011, according to the foreign ministry.