Swedish police have approved a permit for a controversial Quran burning protest outside the main mosque in central Stockholm, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. This provocative act could potentially fuel tensions between Sweden and Turkey and jeopardize the Nordic country's efforts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
This approval comes in the wake of several rejections, often citing security reasons.
However, administrative courts have dismissed the police's decisions, arguing that public gatherings and demonstrations must be granted unless they pose an immediate threat to public safety.
The permit holder, identified as Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban the Quran, successfully won court appeals after previous permit applications were denied. Mr. Momika is expected to be one of the two people participating in the demonstration. The event, coinciding with the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha, would mark the first public act of its kind in Sweden.
The approval of the protest may indeed have significant foreign policy implications for Sweden. Previous incidents involving the desecration of the Quran have led to significant fallout with Turkey, a key NATO member and a country whose support is crucial for Sweden's NATO aspirations.
In a similar event earlier this year, Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, incensed the Muslim world by burning a copy of the Quran near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. This resulted in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suspending negotiations with Sweden regarding its NATO membership.
Swedish police have brought in reinforcements from other parts of the country to maintain order during the planned protest on Wednesday. While the demonstration may be small, its potential impact on Sweden's foreign relations and its bid to join NATO cannot be understated.
NATO officials are racing against time to admit Sweden to the alliance by July 11, the date of its next official summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Officials are concerned that missing this deadline will send a damaging and potentially dangerous signal to the alliance's adversaries.
Turkey, a strategically important NATO member due to its geographical location in both the Middle East and Europe and the second-largest military power in the alliance, has proven to be the most significant hurdle to Sweden's NATO accession. The outcome of the scheduled Quran burning protest may significantly shape the future trajectory of Sweden's NATO bid.