Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris this week sharply criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing the leader of “causing a very big mess” in the Middle East.
“We have Mr Erdogan’s new ambitions to become the region’s new Ottoman emperor,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Tuesday, referring to the former empire which up until the beginning of the 20th century was much of the Middle East and Europe ruled. “He has his hands full in Syria, Libya, Iraq and now Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Erdogan in summer criticized Egypt for supporting forces in Libya that oppose the government in Tripoli, which Turkey supports in the ongoing civil war there.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry referred CNBC to the closest Turkish embassy. Murat Lütem, the Turkish ambassador to Singapore, responded to Sawiris’ criticism: “Turkish foreign policy aims to maintain and build peace and stability and to protect our national interests in accordance with international law. President Erdoğan leads our nation accordingly and claims to the contrary are unfounded. “
Sawiris said Erdogan is “causing a very big mess in the region, in addition to what he’s doing exploring the Mediterranean Sea and trying to steal the Greek oil and gas.”
Turkey and Greece are fighting over competing claims to energy reserves in disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in August that it would not step down from defending its “rights” in the region.
Sawiris, chairman and CEO of Orascom Investment Holding, added that the United States “practically disappeared” from the region, while Russia, Turkey and Iran are more embroiled in local conflicts. “This is not good for the Middle East,” he said.
Under President Donald Trump, the US has reduced the number of troops in the region, but brokered important deals such as the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Sawiris said he saw the Trump administration as “totally biased” in favor of Israel.
These comments came in response to a question about what President-elect Joe Biden means to Turkey.
“I’m actually more optimistic because everything can be said about Biden … but one thing is for sure, he’s more experienced than Donald Trump in world affairs,” he said, adding that Biden “is well aware of all the pros and cons Middle East. “