By P K Abdul Ghafour
Jeddah, (Arab News): The Dutch government is sending an envoy to Riyadh this week for high-level talks after the Kingdom slapped indirect sanctions on the European country because a far-right Dutch politician had insulted Islam and Saudi Arabia.
Maurice Pourchez, first secretary for economic and cultural affairs at the Netherlands Embassy in Riyadh, said that Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans had told the country’s official television outlet that he would send the executive director for political affairs to the Kingdom.
“Timmermans has also expressed his desire to visit Saudi Arabia shortly to strengthen relations,” the official said.
Pourchez emphasized the growing economic relations between the two countries.
Trade between Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands stands at 6 billion euros (about SR31 billion) with Saudi exports to the country reaching nearly SR20 billion. “We have not received any official information about Saudi Arabia’s decision to slash trade ties,” Pourchez said, adding that his country would launch all-out efforts to improve relations.
“The incident took place about four months ago,” the official said about lawmaker Geert Wilders who printed stickers insulting the Saudi flag and Islam.
Asked whether the Saudi decision had any impact on Dutch companies, Pourchez said: “We hope it does not happen and Dutch companies have expressed their concern.”
About 30 Dutch companies operate in Saudi Arabia and there are many in the Netherlands that have trade relations with the Kingdom.
The Council of Saudi Chambers said recently that it had received an order from the Saudi government banning Dutch firms from taking part in future projects in the Kingdom, directly and through subcontracting.
The order also reduces to a minimum the number of visas “for Dutch companies and investors who are not part of vital projects in the Kingdom.”
There would also be a ban on trade delegations between the two countries.
The Dutch government has reportedly distanced itself from Wilders’ actions, pointing out that the populist firebrand is not part of, or representative of it. Wilders previously compared the Qur’an to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
He also blamed Saudi Arabia for terrorist attacks around the globe.
Saudis and expatriates have welcomed the Kingdom’s decision to impose sanctions on the Netherlands for failing to take action against Wilders.
“I extend my wholehearted support to the Saudi government for taking a quick and decisive decision to end anti-Islam hatred coming from the Netherlands,” said Yousuf Al-Kuwailet, a Saudi columnist and intellectual. He said Wilders had replaced the Shahadah on the Saudi flag with profanities attacking Islam and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “Exercising freedom of speech and spreading hatred are two different things,” Al-Kuwailet said, and asked why the Dutch government was not taking action against Wilders for his racist attacks and anti-Islam diatribes.
Abdul Rahman, a Dutch Muslim blogger, commented: “I’m happy to hear that the hostile sentiments toward Islam are being taken seriously. The country allows hate speeches by Wilders against Muslims and Islam. This encourages extremist groups to attack Muslims.”
Blogger Roy Jenkins said: “Wilders is an ignorant fool who brings shame on the people of the Netherlands. The vast majority of the Dutch population respects people regardless of their religion, gender or race and this liberal attitude allows populist politicians like Wilders to preach to the lesser-educated.”
“The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and the wider world should oppose racism by building bridges rather than burning them. The last few years has seen great work carried out between enterprises and universities in both countries, and by allowing the words of Wilders to be taken seriously, all that good work could go to waste,” he said