Hanif Bali is no stranger to controversy and has built a strong following on social media thanks to his outspoken views, which some critics say flirt with white nationalism despite his Iranian background.
His critics have also repeatedly criticized Moderate party leaders – who have talked in other situations about raising the level of the public debate in Sweden – for not stepping in and reining him in.
But on Wednesday they eventually did, after Bali posted a series of tweets in which he slammed former Moderate prime minister and foreign minister Carl Bildt, who was also a former EU mediator in the Balkans.
Bali criticized both Bildt and current foreign minister Margot Wallström of the ruling centre-left Social Democrat party for meeting with their Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on his visit to Sweden this week.
“Sweden follows the Bildt doctrine. Leading the way for normalizing relations with the regime. Fitting that the doctrine is named after a man who has not succeeded in being right about a single foreign-political event ever,” Bali tweeted, also calling Bildt a “persistent Erdoganist” and “non-grata in the Balkans”.
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Dozens of people protested against the Iranian foreign minister's visit to Sweden. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
The attack on their former party leader, who remains a largely well-respected figure within the party, appeared to be the straw that broke the camel's back, with the Moderates' parliamentary group organizing an emergency telephone conference to discuss how to handle the latest tweets.
Bali was later asked to step down from his roles as a substitute member of the parliament's labour market committee and EU committee, which he said he would do.
“Fellow party members have directed harsh criticism at me and my intent has been questioned, and it obviously hurts me deeply,” he wrote in a statement on Facebook. “It is my responsibility to do my utmost to debate in a way that does not cause my party to think it does more harm than good.”
He also apologized to Bildt “for the way (he) worded (himself)”.
It did not take his critics long to point out that the party had only appeared to act when one of its own was the target, but Moderate officials said the tweets attacking Bildt were only the last straw.
“There have been continuous violations on social media, but this is a process where he has on several occasions overstepped the line in a way we find unacceptable,” Tobias Billström, leader of the party's parliamentary group, told Swedish news agency TT.
“It is just as serious to be offensive to other people as it is to (be offensive to) Carl Bildt.”