Erdogan adviser criticizes Saudi Arabia for ‘favoring non-Muslims over Turkey’

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A senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Saudi Arabia on Thursday for “favoring the Europeans and non-Muslims” over Turkey and other Muslim countries after the recent visit of the Saudi Arabian foreign minister to Cyprus.

“What does the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia benefit from this visit and establishing this relationship with Southern Cyprus, the Roum (Rum), which Turkey does not recognize?” Yasin Aktay, a senior adviser to Erdogan and the Turkish AK Party, asked during an interview on state-broadcaster TRT Arabi channel.

“Roum” is a term used by Turks to refer to the people and countries of Greek Orthodox Christian origins.

“Saudi Arabia should not have recognized this country but as a Muslim country and as part of the Organization of Islamic Countries, we were waiting and wishing for them to recognize the state of Turkish Cyprus (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) which is a Muslim country. They take the Europeans, the Roum and the non-Muslims as friends of theirs but are moving away from Muslims. This is surprising,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf began an official visit to Cyprus on Wednesday where he met with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. They reviewed bilateral relations, as well as the latest developments at the international level.

Al-Assaf said there’s “high interest” in developing relations “on all fronts” with Cyrpus, given the European Union member country’s geographic location and longstanding ties with the Arab world.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Christodoulides described the visit - the first by a top Saudi official - as historic, noting that the two countries shared a common vision.

According to AFP, Cyprus has been divided on ethnic lines since Turkish troops occupied its northern third in 1974, following a Greek Cypriot coup sponsored by the military junta - then in power in Athens - seeking union with Greece. Turkey continues to maintain a sizeable military presence in the north of the island. Turkey, which has no diplomatic relations with Cyprus, is the only country which recognizes the breakaway state in the north of the island.

Turkey's Aktay also accused Saudi Arabia of “moving away from Muslims.”

“Truthfully, this country is responsible and takes responsibility of being the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, so they should be more keen to protect the interests of the Ummah (Islamic community) and Muslims,” Aktay said. The Kingdom's role as custodian of the Two Holy Mosques includes facilitating the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj for approximately 2.3 million Muslims from around the world.

Aktay also said that Saudi Arabia should approach solving the problems of the Islamic world with “more rationality” and that Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister al-Assaf’s visit to Cyprus was in conflict with its regional role.

“This visit to the Roum and this challenge to Turkey from this policy is not worthy of the Kingdom to do so. They should take a more rational stance and should realize that Turkey is not an enemy to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Turkey wants to advise her as a true brother and friend to establish justice,” he added.

Aktay previously accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of “treason” over what he called “normalization” with Israel, despite the Gulf countries having no diplomatic ties with Israel - while Turkey has had diplomatic ties with the state since 1949, with relations booming in the 1990s.

In recent months, Turkey has been criticized for sending several drill ships to waters off Cyprus to explore for oil and gas.