As the US hashed over the possibility of slashing aid to Egypt in the aftermath of the July 3 military takeover and surge in political violence, interim Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said Tuesday that Egypt could survive without America’s massive outlay.
If the US does cut the $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, the country could find other supporters, but it would be “a bad sign and will badly affect the military for some time,” Beblawi said, noting that in the past “Egypt went with the Russian military for support and we survived. So, there is no end to life. You can live with different circumstances.”
Since the change in government, Egypt has received pledges for billions in aid from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Beblawi, speaking with ABC News in a wide-ranging interview, his first since assuming the office of interim prime minister, said that “we need the US as much as the US needs us” and Egypt was “sorry that at this moment there is a kind of misunderstanding” between the two countries. Time, he added, “will work to the benefit” of both countries.
Tensions in Egypt have soared since the army ousted Mohammed Morsi, the nation’s first freely elected president. The July 3 coup followed days of protests by millions of Egyptians demanding that Morsi, who hails from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, step down. Some 1,000 people have been killed in ensuing violence.
The White House has engaged in impressive verbal acrobatics to avoid calling the takeover a coup and keep the aid flowing, which it sees as a crucial guarantee of US influence in the region and keeps Egypt tied to its peace treaty with Israel, a rare source of stability in the region.
However the army’s bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters has ratcheted up pressure from lawmakers and others for the US to punish Egypt by shutting the spigot.
To express its displeasure, the US last week suspended the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt and canceled biennial US-Egyptian military exercises planned for next month.
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama held a meeting of his national security advisers to discuss the issue of continued aid to Egypt, but officials denied that any decision would be immediately forthcoming, Reuters reported. The State Department, White House, and Pentagon all denied reports that the decision to cut off Egypt’s aid had already been made.
“Our aid and assistance relationship with Egypt is under a review, but it has not been cut off. A decision to cut off aid would be announced, if it were to be announced, after that review has been completed,” a White House spokesman said, but added that “continued violations of basic human rights don’t make the transfer of that aid more likely.”
Beblawi said Egyptians cherish democracy just as much as the US, but didn’t appreciate Washington turning its back on a key regional ally.
“What we don’t like sometimes is politics when you takes sides against us,” he said.
Admitting that Egypt’s turmoil will likely last a few more weeks, Beblawi however said that the country would not descend into a Syria-like extended conflict.
“In truth, I do not fear civil war,” he said.
Casualty figures for conflicts between the Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been exaggerated, he said, adding that he has “no remorse” over the deaths but feels “very, very bad.” Official ministry figured put the death toll over several days of fighting at over 800, while some Brotherhood officials said it ran to over 2,000 killed.
The Muslim Brotherhood, despite their statements to the contrary, used weapons during the fighting and were not at all peaceful, he added.
Despite a formal proposal to ban the Brotherhood, Egypt’s interim rulers are committed to a “true democratic government” and the prime minister said that “I personally think everyone in the Muslim Brotherhood and other civil societies have the right to be there. We must have transparency.”
He envisioned new elections in “six to nine months.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.