Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris. PICTURE: REUTERS

ROME: Egyptian billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris yesterday condemned a crackdown on graft in Saudi Arabia, saying the purge had undermined the rule of law in the kingdom and would deter investment.
In outspoken comments, Sawiris, a well-known business figure in North Africa and the Middle East, also accused Qatar of destabilising the region, and said there were only a handful of Arab nations that were safe to invest in.

Saudi security forces rounded up dozens of members of the country’s political and business elite last month on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in what was billed as a war on rampant corruption.

Sawiris, whose family’s Orascom businesses have interests ranging from construction to telecoms, said influential figures should stand up to the Crown Prince, whom he referred to as “this young man”.

“We need to tell him ‘no’. There is the rule of law and order. You have a transparent process. Where is the court? What is the evidence? Who is the judge?” he told a conference in Rome. “Are you not part of this? Where did you get your money? Didn’t you do this? What is the system?”

Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia needs to modernise and has warned that, without reform, the economy will sink into a crisis that could fan unrest. Critics say his purge is to shore up his power base, which the government denies.

Sawiris said “everyone with a conscience” should speak out, but many were too frightened. “Everyone is scared because they have interests there. They have the oil, they have the money. But you need to have a conscience. When I say this, I know I am done-for in Saudi Arabia. No more business (there). Okay, I don’t care.”

A monthly Reuters poll published on Thursday showed Middle East fund managers had become more positive towards Saudi Arabian equities after an initial market sell-off following the launch of the anti-graft drive. - Reuters