Sweden has no 'quick fix' for damaged relations with Muslim world

Minister says his country takes Islamic group's objections seriously over burning of Quran in Stockholm

Swedish police have permitted protests in Stockholm but insist they do not endorse burning the Quran. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Sweden said on Thursday it has no "quick fix" to repair its relations with the Muslim world after they were damaged by the burning of the Quran in Stockholm.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said his country took seriously a complaint by the 57-member Organisation for Islamic Co-operation about the spate of provocations.

He said Swedish companies could face boycotts in protest, even though the Islamic group stopped short of calling for such action.

Another Swedish minister was meeting religious leaders on Thursday as the government tries to defuse tensions.

Sweden and Denmark are looking at changing their laws after protests were allowed to go ahead in which the Quran was desecrated.

Although police insist they only approve gatherings and not what happens there, their stance has failed to quell anger among many Muslims.

Swedish prosecutors are investigating whether the recent incidents in Stockholm could have amounted to incitement.

In Denmark, opposition parties holding 72 seats between them in the 178-member parliament expressed concern on Thursday about a possible ban.

They said ministers could encourage foreign interference if they caved to pressure and brought in laws that they said would interfere with free speech rights.

Fears of violence "must not set the boundaries for Danish politics and Danish democracy", they said.

Sweden has tightened border checks because of fears of further unrest.

Mr Billstrom said he would devote time to "rebuilding relations" with Muslim countries but said in English that there was no "quick fix", according to local media.

Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson said Sweden was seeking "dialogue and conversation".

The opposition Social Democrats accused Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of a lack of leadership during what the Swedish government has portrayed as a security crisis.

One poll published on Thursday showed the Social Democrats with their highest rating in more than a decade, with ruling parties collectively 11 points behind the opposition.

Pollster Toivo Sjoren told broadcaster SVT that the Quran burnings were likely to have shifted public opinion.

Activists Salwan Najem and Salwan Momika have staged three such protests in recent weeks, burning the Quran at two of them and descecrating it a third time.

The protests at Iraq's embassy, Stockholm's main mosque and most recently the Swedish parliament have prompted outrage and counter-demonstrations. A crowd attacked Sweden's embassy in Baghdad.

Another Quran-burning outside Turkey's embassy in January added a complication to Sweden's bid to join Nato.

Swedish ministers have stressed they do not approve of the protests even if they are legal.

But the OIC's Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha this week "expressed his disappointment that no measures were taken" to prevent the protests.

The organisation said Mr Taha would lead a delegation to the EU to urge officials there “to take the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such criminal acts under the pretext of freedom of expression”.

Updated: August 03, 2023, 12:21 PM