Egypt’s interim prime minister has said that his country could do without foreign aid, as both the United States and the European Union are reviewing ties with Cairo following a bloody crackdown on anti-coup protests.
A defiant Hazem el-Beblawi told ABC news on Tuesday that his country was heading in the “right direction” and he did “not fear civil war” despite the death of more than 830 people in a military-led campaign against backers of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.
Beblawi said that it would be “a bad sign” for the US to cut off aid to his country, but that while such a step would “badly affect the military for some time”, Egypt would survive.
“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 said.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has said it and other Arab states would step in to fill any funding gap if Washington withdrew aid.
Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities have arrested two more Islamist figures, Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency reported on Wednesday.
Safwat Hegazy, a fiery Salafi preacher, was arrested on Libyan border, while Mourad Ali, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s political wing, was detained at the Cairo airport, trying to catch a flight to Italy, MENA said.
Hegazy is wanted over charges of instigating violence.
Earlier on Tuesday, authorities detained Mohamed Badie, the “spiritual leader” of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, stoking fears of fresh violence between security forces and Islamists protesting at the former president’s July 3 ouster by the army.
An Egyptian court remanded Badie in custody for 15 days on suspicion of inciting the murder of protesters, the first time since 1981 that the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader has been arrested.
|AID FLOWS TO EGYPT|
United States – $212m
(All data valid for 2011)
He is due to stand trial on August 25 along with his two deputies.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said the arrest was “incredibly significant”.
“The arrest of the spiritual leader was always seen as a red line, even Hosni Mubarak never arrested him, but this military-led government is clearly ignoring that.”
A Muslim Brotherhood statement condemned the arrest of Badie, 70.
“The putschists think that arresting the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and marring their image in the media will make Egyptians bow and give in to the coup,” it said.
“The issue has become one of the Egyptian people and they will not bow. … They have killed thousands, wounded thousands, arrested thousands but the (people) are continuing in their peaceful revolution and rejecting the coup and military rule.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, reeling from the imprisonment and death of hundreds of its members, moved swiftly to temporarily replace Badie with Mahmoud Ezzat, his deputy in the organisation.
US and EU reviewing ties
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Barack Obama met with top aides to review policy towards Egypt, traditionally a strong US ally in the Middle East.
The White House criticised Badie’s arrest, saying it was incompatible with the military’s pledge for an “inclusive political process” but denied reports it was halting its $1.3bn annual aid package.
Spokesman Josh Earnest said a review of US aid ordered in early July had not yet been completed and that “reports … that suggest that assistance to Egypt has been cut off are not accurate”.
On Wednesday, foreign ministers from the European Union, which has pledged nearly $6.7bn in aid for 2012-13, are set to meet to discuss the crisis in Brussels.
In comments made ahead of the meeting, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top foreign policy official, offered to go to Egypt to help mediate a political solution to the crisis in the country.
“I have offered to go back. I told the Egyptian prime minister at the weekend that I would be more than willing to go back to Egypt, if they wish me to come back,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Feltman, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, has arrived in Cairo to facilitate reconciliatory dialogue.
Feltman, who will be at the Arab League on Wednesday, will hold “wide-ranging discussion” which will focus on how the UN can best support the peace process in Egypt.
The UN official will have his work cut out for him in the wake of nearly a week of bloodshed after authorities violently cleared two Cairo protest camps packed with Morsi supporters.
On Monday morning, unidentified fighters shot 25 policemen in the restive Sinai. This followed the death of 37 Muslim Brotherhood detainees who were killed on their way to a jail in northern Cairo.
Officials say the prisoners suffocated on tear gas fired in a bid to release a police officer they had taken hostage but the Brotherhood accused police of “murder” and “cold-blooded killing”.