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Saudi Mulls Trade Measures After Dutch Politician’s Anti-Islam Remarks

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia is considering trade measures against the Netherlands because of stickers resembling the kingdom’s flag and carrying anti-Islam slogans printed by far-right politician Geert Wilders.

Local business daily Al Eqtisadiah  reported on Friday that the chambers of commerce have received an order to ban Dutch companies from bidding for future projects in the country, halt visits of business delegations and limit the number and duration of visas granted to investors.

The Dutch government said on Sunday that they have been in close contact with Saudi Arabia to discuss what they described as “indications of possible measures” on trade.

“The Dutch government has already strongly distanced itself from the comments made by Wilders,” said Friso Wijnen, a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We have stressed again that this is not the position of the Dutch government.”

Wilders has in the past received death threats for making anti-Islam statements, and he has lived under round-the-clock armed guard since 2004. His Dutch Freedom Party is competing in the European Parliament elections that will be held in the Netherlands on Thursday.

While the Dutch government said Wilders’ opinions don’t represent them, Saudi businessman Hussein Shobokshi told The Wall Street Journal “it is unacceptable to allow insulting Islam under the pretext of free speech,” and that the Saudi government should continue to raise this topic “until we have a legal framework in Europe to protect heavenly religions and their symbols.”

Dutch businesses have a long history of operating in Saudi Arabia, with the first bank in the kingdom founded in 1926 as a branch of the Netherlands Trading Society. The bank later became known as the Saudi Hollandi Bank and it remains in business to this day. Other Dutch companies like Shell and Unilever also arrived to the country in the first half of the 20th century.

Saudi imports from the Netherlands amounted to 6.27 billion riyals ($1.67 billion) in 2012, according to the Saudi Central Department of Statistics & Information.

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(via WSJ Blogs)