Foreign minister Frans Timmermans is to visit Saudi-Arabia soon in an effort to calm Saudi anger about the anti-Islam sticker devised by Geert Wilders.
In December, Wilders placed a sticker on the door of his parliamentary office. It reads, in Arabic, ‘Islam is a lie, Mohammed is a criminal, the Koran is poison.’ The sticker is a deliberate take-off of the Saudi Arabian flag.
The government immediately condemned the action. Timmermans said at the time this sort of action is counterproductive. ‘Insulting their religion is not the way to combat extremism but plays into extremists’ hands,’ he said. ‘The Dutch government is distancing itself from this.’
It is not clear why Saudi Arabia is only now considering taking economic sanctions against the Netherlands.
‘Of course they appreciate the fact that the Dutch government has made its position clear,’ Timmermans told television show Buitenhof on Sunday. ‘But it would appear that Saudi Arabia is still irritated.’
The minister said he planned to fly to Riyad in ‘the not too distant future’ in an effort to smooth over the situation.
The foreign ministry confirmed on Saturday there are signs that Saudi Arabia was planning to take steps against the Netherlands. This could include excluding Dutch companies from participating in local projects and changing visa requirements, according to a local media report.
Prime minister Mark Rutte said Wilders’ sticker campaign threatens Dutch jobs. ‘Freedom of speech is a great good in the Netherlands and Wilders makes very generous use of it,’ the prime minister said.
According to the national statistics office CBS, the Netherlands exported goods – mainly fruit, vegetables, dairy produce and telecoms equipment – worth €2.2bn to Saudi Arabia last year. Imports totalled €3.8bn, of which 90% was in the form of crude oil.