Yemen’s Houthis implement Swedish import ban over Quran burning

Momentum for the ban has been building for months, since a previous Quran-burning incident in January.

Armed Houthi fighters attend the funeral procession of Houthi rebel fighters who were killed in recent fighting with forces of Yemen's internationally recognised government, in Sanaa, Yemen.
Armed Houthi rebels [File: Hani Mohammed/AP]

In continuing protests against the burning of a Quran by a man in Sweden in late June, Yemen’s Houthi movement has implemented a ban on Swedish imports, according to the Houthi-run Almasirah TV.

The Houthi’s trade minister, Muhammad Sharaf al-Mutahhar, said the ban came into effect Saturday after first announcing the decision on July 4, and urged other Muslim countries to follow their example.

“Yemen is the first Islamic country to ban imports of Swedish goods after its violations and desecration,” Almasirah quoted the Houthi trade minister as saying.

The group’s Department of Trademarks and Commercial Agencies devised a list of 30 Swedish agencies and 100 brands to boycott.

The trade minister said the decision to ban the import of Swedish goods passed through the Council of Ministers, and a committee had been formed to aid in its implementation.

“Any Swedish goods that reach the customs outlets will be subject to arrest, but after meeting with the private sector, we have seen a great response to the decision,” said al-Mutahhar.

The Houthis, who ousted the Saudi-backed government from Sanaa in late 2014, are the de facto authorities in northern Yemen, while the internationally-recognised government is represented by the Political Leadership Council (PLC), formed last year.

Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee who fled to Sweden several years ago, tore up and set alight pages of the Islamic holy book as Muslims celebrated Eid al-Adha on June 28.

The backlash from governments in the Middle East and North Africa was immediate, as many issued strong statements and summoned Swedish ambassadors to their countries.

Yemen’s Houthi group, however, is the first to ban imports from the Nordic country, a symbolic move the group’s minister said, as trade between the two is limited.

Back in January of this year, the Council of Ministers approved the decision to boycott Swedish, Danish, Dutch, US and Israeli goods following a previous Quran-burning incident in Sweden by far-right Danish politician Rasmus Paludan, who holds both citizenships. The council had set up mechanisms to follow through on the bans.

According to the most recent data from United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Yemen’s imports from Sweden amounted to $26.18m in 2019.

In addition, according to Sweden’s official statistics service, there was a 28 percent increase in Swedish exports to Yemen in the first quarter of this year when compared to the same period in 2022.

The biggest Swedish export to Yemen is vehicles, followed by wood and electronic equipment.

In a television address on Almasirah TV, Houthi leader Sayyed Abdulmalik said Muslim countries can have a considerable impact if they collectively boycott Sweden, which could be a “lesson for others”.

The minimum response to the “crime” of burning the Quran is severing diplomatic relations and imposing an economic boycott of Sweden, he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies