Egyptian Prime Minister Says He Does 'Not Fear Civil War'

Beblawi says deaths only "several hundred," elections in six to nine months.

August 20, 2013, 12:30 PM

Aug. 20, 2013 — -- Egyptian interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi does "not fear civil war" in Egypt, he told ABC News today 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."

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have pledged billions of dollars in aid to the new Egyptian government in recent weeks and Beblawi said Egypt's army could survive without the $1.3 billion in military aid from the United States.

"Let's not forget that Egypt went with the Russian military for support and we survived. So, there is no end to life. You can live with different circumstances," he told ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz in Cairo.

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"We are sorry that at this moment there is a kind of misunderstanding [between the U.S. and Egypt]," Beblawi said. "There is a lot of misunderstanding and I'm sure that the time will work to the benefit of both sides."

He added, "I cannot exclude the fact that we need the U.S. as much as the U.S. needs us."

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.

Beblawi is cautiously optimistic, however.

"Really, in truth, I do not fear civil war," he said. "But I do not exclude that we will have some continuous problems in the coming weeks. Perhaps coming months.

"But civil war and the type we have seen in some neighbors, I don't think that Egypt is on this path."

Nearly 300 people died this weekend, and more than 1,000 people reportedly died 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."

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The Muslim Brotherhood says thousands of unarmed protesters died when security forces rolled into the sit-in at Raba'a Al Adaweya, but Beblawi defended the operation, saying he would do nothing differently if given the chance.

"The fact of the matter is they were not peaceful," he said of the protesters.

"Before the assault was taken they announced in loud speakers asking people to come peacefully out and there are some exit for them, no one would be held responsible, so they tried everything. ...

"We announced that telling them this cannot continue, that this is bad, we are open for dialogue but they insisted and they had weapons and it was discovered they used weapons."

Beblawi continued, "What happened is bad. It's not a kind of remorse. When you see people dying from one side or the other, you cannot say I have remorse, but you feel bad because this is human blood. So you're telling me do you have no remorse? I have no remorse but I feel very, very bad."

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For weeks leading up to the dispersal, the United States urged the Egyptian military to exercise restraint. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called Egypt's army chief, Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sissi, at least 17 times after the July 3 takeover

"The U.S. did not appreciate the will of the people," Beblawi said. "Don'\'t forget 30 million took the street for freedom [to oust Morsi]. They have another idea of freedom and they took the street for freedom. They want Morsi out."

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.

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 today. "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 was 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. Sissi 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 today 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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