​Saudi Arabia hits back at Sweden… by barring 4 of its monkeys

Reuters/Ivan Alvarado
The human rights spat between the Swedes and the Saudis is quickly reaching epic proportions, as the Gulf kingdom has banned four of the Scandinavians’ zoo monkeys from entering the country to make a new home in Riyadh.

The cute pygmy marmosets are probably none the wiser about the whole situation, but they are the latest bone of contention between the two countries, which are at opposite ends of the human rights and secular-religious debate.

READ MORE: First Palestinian embassy in W. Europe opens in Sweden

An agreement was made at some point for the monkeys to relocate to a zoo in the Saudi capital, but that was before Sweden’s criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the Saudis blocking Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom’s speech at the Arab League meeting in Cairo, to which she was invited as a courtesy, for recognizing the state of Palestine.

The exchange of pleasantries then spilled over into a cancellation by Sweden of the arms deal the two had had.

And now this latest escalation, with a troop of four South American pigmy marmosets, weighing 100 grams each, having to suffer the consequences.

“They didn't want any monkeys anymore because of the political situation,” the director of the aquarium at Skansen, Jonas Wahlstrom, told the news agency TT.

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden in March, and this was followed by an announcement that no new Saudi visas would be issued to any Swedish business executives. Later, an announcement was made by the Swedish Foreign Office that the situation was mended and the ambassador was returning.

Oddly enough, this warming of ties applies only to human Swedes, and the four-legged primates will continue to bear the brunt of the diplomatic standoff, Wahlstrom learned from Riyadh by phone.

“The little monkeys were supposed to have gone down there, it had been decided for some time. But then they called over the weekend and said that they had been told by their authorities that 'Sweden? No, no, we don't want that',” he said.

“I certainly never would have imagined that this would happen, that we would get this kind of 'monkey business'. But we'll just have to keep an eye out for when they start issuing visas for businesspeople and try again. Perhaps then they will issue them for monkeys too,” Wahlstrom said.

READ MORE: Sweden ends arms deal with Saudi Arabia after human rights standoff

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lofven refuted speculation that the move to cancel the arms deal earlier was in response to the diplomatic standoff. "This has been agreed for some time now. It has nothing to do with what has happened in recent days," he said, according to Swedish Radio.

The trade agreement, first signed in 2005, was renewed by the previous center-left government five years ago. The accord netted Swedish firms over $560 billion between 2011 and 2014. The situation was supposed to be no different with Wallstrom, who had officially voiced her support for the document early in March.