Swedish furniture giant Ikea says it should have known better, after it came under fire for removing images of women from the version of its catalogue distributed in Saudi Arabia.

In a front-page story published Monday, the Swedish edition of the free newspaper Metro revealed that the Saudi version of Ikea's popular catalogue had been edited to exclude any images of women.

In the large image splashed across the paper's cover, two ostensibly identical pictures are shown depicting a typical Ikea bathroom scene that includes a pyjama-clad family brushing their teeth.

The only difference: 'Mom' is standing in front of the mirror in the Swedish version, but is nowhere to be seen in the Saudi one.

The touch-up goes beyond models, the paper reports, pointing out that Ikea's featured female employees have been removed as well.

On its website, Ikea touts its commitment to several values including the desire "to create a better life for people.

"That includes people and communities all over the world."

Swedes have reacted angrily to the revelation that Ikea had adjusted its catalogue for Saudi consumers, typified in a tweet by James Savage, managing editor of the English-language, European news site The Local.

"What a shock! Company that we all knew was doing business with a misogynistic dictatorship uses misogynistic practices. How naive are we?"

Ikea has since released a statement expressing regret over the furor.

"We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values."

The catalogue had been developed in co-operation with its Saudi franchise operator, Ikea Group spokesperson Josefin Thorell told Metro, explaining that the company plans to "review its procedures."

In comments to the Associated Press, Swedish equality minister Nyamko Sabuni said Ikea is a private company, but nevertheless exemplifies Sweden to people around the world.

"For Ikea to remove an important part of Sweden's image and an important part of its values in a country that more than any other needs to know about about Ikea's principles and values -- that's completely wrong," Sabuni said.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest site in the city of Mecca, follows an ultra-conservative form of the religion known as Wahhabism.

Under the country's strict interpretation of Islam, unrelated men and women are prohibited from mingling in public. There are nevertheless career women working as teachers, engineers and doctors for example. And Saudi Arabia sent its first female competitors to the Olympics in London this year.

The kingdom has promised more reforms too, including allowing women to vote in municipal elections in 2015.

Women are infrequently depicted in local Saudi advertisements, typically in clothes that cover their hair and bodies. Images of women in imported magazines are censored to obscure body parts including their arms, legs and chests.