Sweden Pays The Price Of Segregation

Even if the urban riots in Sweden last week took many by surprise, the signs were all around.

Second day of riots in the Stockholm suburb of Husby
Second day of riots in the Stockholm suburb of Husby
Olivier Truc

STOCKHOLM Suburbs ablaze with cars on fire and protesters hurling rocks at the police. After a week of violent riots, Sweden and the rest of the world are trying to understand what went wrong in this country, famed for its social model.

The Swedish suburbs were not burned to the ground. Sweden has been through worse, and truth be told, this spate of social unrest doesn’t come close to the riots France and the UK experienced in their suburbs.

Even if this country of 9 million inhabitants is doing rather well – with growth at 1.7% in the first trimester, and healthy public finances – and is still a very civic-minded society, it is in fact going through a rough patch.

“The problem is not a failure of the integration policy, it is that there is no integration policy to speak of -- just rhetoric,” says Irene Molina, professor of cultural geography at Uppsala University. “There is still a lot of structural discrimination in the Swedish society in regard to employment, housing, even going out to nightclubs, and it’s more or less accepted,” she adds.

According to Ove Sernhede, from the Center of Urban Studies: “The rise of inequalities in Sweden’s biggest cities is shocking; more than half the children who grow up there live beneath the poverty line.”

Two studies confirm this observation. The first study, from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that Sweden is the developed country where the gap between rich and poor expanded the most from 1995 to 2010.

The second study, from Swedish think-tank Migro, showed that Sweden was the worst country in the OECD in terms of unemployment rate among foreigners: 15.9% compared to 6.4% for native Swedes.

In the west Stockholm suburb of Husby, where the riots started on May 19, many families try to enroll their children in Stockholm’s best high schools. Because of the Swedish school system, schools in the suburbs are left with less students – and therefore less funding. Dropout rates are huge, and so is youth unemployment.

While we applaud the Swedish social model, we tend to forget that Sweden was one of the first European countries to deregulate its public services in the mid-1980s.

The deregulation of the financial sector led to the explosion of the housing bubble, which sparked a huge crisis in the 1990s. This led to an austerity policy – although it was never called that – and its effects can still be felt today.

After the right came to power in 2006, suburbs like Husby were set aside and forgotten. Local administrative services were moved to other neighborhoods, which further fuelled frustrations.

Ghetto trap

Many Swedes are victims of where they live. They are trapped in their suburbs, without much hope of being able to leave one day.

This was the case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic before he became an international soccer star. He was born in Rosengard, an impoverished suburb of Malmo, the third biggest city in Sweden. “Malmo was very close,” he wrote in his biography, “but it was another world. I was 17 when I first went to downtown Malmo and I couldn’t understand what was happening there.” Rosengard is a 30-minute walk from Malmo.

The Swedish model is fledgling, even though the country is doing all it can to appear modern, shiny and sleek with its pop music, food and conservative finance minister who wears a pony-tail and earrings and talks like a social-democrat.

Think-tank Migro says one idea to boost employment levels for immigrants would be to reduce wages for low-paying jobs so that immigrants wouldn’t compete with native Swedes for these jobs. This is similar to what conservative Prime Ministers Fredrik Reinfeld told Le Monde in 2009, when visiting an employment agency in the suburbs: “There should be different kinds of jobs. Some of those disappeared from our country. But we need them so that we can reduce youth unemployment.”

To one of the agency’s managers who was saying that Swedish lessons would help in that regard, the prime minister answered that for certain types of jobs, a command of the Swedish language was not necessary. Will the labor sector transform into a two-speed sector, with a cheap and low-level workforce at its base? Unions are gearing up for a fight.

Sweden has a cosmopolitan society – 20% of which is of foreign origin – and is tolerant for many things. But Sweden also has an extreme far-right movement that is thriving.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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