Egyptian Prime Minister Says He Does ‘Not Fear Civil War’
(CAIRO) -- Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi does "not fear civil war" in Egypt, he told ABC News Tuesday in his first interview since taking office last month.
He also warned that any decision by Washington to cut military aid to Egypt "will be a bad sign and will badly affect the military for some time."
In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have pledged billions of dollars in aid to the new Egyptian government and Beblawi said Egypt's army could survive without the $1.3 billion in military aid from the United States.
"Don't forget the Egyptian people went with Russian military aid for decades so there are ways that someone can survive," he told ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz in Cairo.
Beblawi said he is "sorry there is a kind of misunderstanding right now" between the United and Egypt but said the mutually beneficial relationship will likely continue.
Since the July 3 military coup that removed former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from power and installed the military-backed caretaker government, the country has spiraled into a cycle of violence. Nearly 300 people were killed over the weekend, and more than 1,000 people were reportedly killed last Wednesday when security forces moved in to clear a mass sit-in filled with Morsi supporters in Cairo's Nasr City. It was the single deadliest day in the country's modern history.
But by Beblawi's count, the death toll amounted to "only several hundred. Perhaps close to a thousand." He added that "there were many victims on both sides."
The Brotherhood says thousands of unarmed protesters were killed when the security forces rolled into the sit-in at Raba'a Al Adaweya but Beblawi defended the operation.
"The fact of the matter is they were not peaceful," he said of the protesters. "We asked them to go free. We made announcements in the loudspeakers, we asked them to leave peacefully and they answered back by firing."
He added, "What happened is bad. I have no remorse, but I feel very, very bad."
In the days ahead, Beblawi said the government "will continue to do everything to ensure security and stability for all Egyptians."
For weeks leading up to the dispersal, the U.S. urged the Egyptian military to exercise restraint. U.S. Secretary of Defense Hagel called Egypt's army chief General Abdul Fattah Al Sissi at least 17 times following the July 3 coup.
"The U.S. did not appreciate the will of the people," Beblawi said. "There was definitely mismanagement during the rule of Morsi to the extent that most people were not happy. But don't forget 20 or 30 million took to the streets to get Morsi out. People thought they would do something good for the country and they were deeply disappointed."
He added, "deep in the heart of many Egyptians they value very highly the principles that America stands for freedom democracy respect of others. What we don't like sometimes is politics when you takes sides against us," he said.
Moving forward, Beblawi said the interim government is committed to "true democratic government."
"We are very keen to end this transitional period. I definitely think that we're talking about between six and nine months we will have elections," he said.
Exactly who will be welcome in the future political process is unclear. On Sunday, Egypt's interior ministry took a page out of the history books and submitted a formal proposal to ban the Brotherhood.
Beblawi struck a more conciliatory tone Tuesday. "We cannot exclude them," he said. "I personally think everyone in the Muslim Brotherhood and other civil societies have the right to be there. We must have transparency."
In a separate development that threatened to further complicate Egypt's perilous political situation, Cairo's Criminal Court acquitted former president Hosni Mubarak, 85, of an outstanding corruption charge, potentially paving the way for his release. The deposed president is appealing a life sentence, and has been behind bars since April 2011 on a lengthy and growing list of charges.
But while the Brotherhood has been keen to keep Mubarak locked up, the current military-backed government may not block his release. Mubarak was part of the military and many of the current government's leaders also served under Mubarak. Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was Mubarak's head of intelligence and the interim president, Adly Mansour, was initially promoted by Mubarak.
"Mubarak is under the control of the legal system," Beblawi said. "Whatever the judge decides, we will accept the outcome. It's not whether I like it or not I want everyone to have a fair chance at a trial."
The streets of Cairo returned Tuesday to an unsettling calm as the city's notorious traffic once again clogged the streets. But as the sun sets, everyone frantically hurried home before the nighttime curfew.
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