Dutch Face Saudi Anger Over Anti-Muslim Lawmaker
The Netherlands' foreign minister said Wednesday he may fly to Saudi Arabia in a bid to ease anger in Riyadh over anti-Muslim messages spread by firebrand lawmaker Geert Wilders.
Frans Timmermans told reporters at the Dutch parliament he couldn't confirm whether Saudi Arabia would impose sanctions on Dutch companies in punishment for Wilders' actions. He spoke hours after a Saudi news agency reported that Dutch companies would be blocked from gaining future contracts in the oil-rich kingdom.
Wilders has angered Saudi authorities by distributing stickers to supporters that twist the devout Muslim message on the Saudi flag.
The kingdom's real flag bears the central motto: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." In Wilders' version, which is displayed prominently on his political Web site, the flag's message now reads in Arabic: "Islam is a lie, Muhammad a criminal, the Koran is poison."
Timmermans said he has discussed this problem privately with Saudi authorities for months, but was speaking out now because of reports of looming anti-Dutch sanctions. Wilders started distributing the stickers in November.
The foreign minister said he has stressed to Saudi authorities "that the Netherlands has freedom of expression, but that Mr. Wilders' standpoint on this issue - deliberately offending people by manipulating a flag - is absolutely not shared in any way by the Dutch government."
Timmermans said a top diplomat would travel next week from Amsterdam to Riyadh to explain the Dutch stance. He said he intended to make his own visit later to reinforce the message.
The foreign minister said he hoped that the Saudis would "understand you should not make an entire country pay for the adolescent behavior of one lawmaker."
Wilders and the Saudi government offered no immediate comment.
Saqb, an online news site with ties to Saudi Arabia's government and security agencies, reported Tuesday night that planned sanctions would include barring Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever and other companies based in Saudi Arabia from winning new work, restricting the work visas of Dutch business people, and canceling trade delegations between the countries.