RIYADH Military intervention in Mali will aggravate strife in Africa and risk alienating the rest of the continent from its Arab north, Middle East power Egypt said on Monday.
France and several African states have sent troops to combat Islamist fighters who control northern Mali, responding to a request from the Malian government and fears that the vast desert country could become a launchpad for attacks by religious militants.
Speaking at the opening of an Arab development conference in Saudi Arabia, Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi said development was needed to solve the conflict in the impoverished country.
"I would like to confirm that we do not agree, ever, to military intervention in Mali because this would inflame the conflict in this region," Mursi said.
"The intervention must be peaceful and developmental and funds must be spent on development," he said. "What we don't ever want is to ... separate the Arab north from the core of Africa."
Mursi won Egypt's first free leadership election last year as the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic social movement founded in 1928 that has long seen Western influence in the Middle East as a cause of social problems and poverty.
But his comments reflected misgivings that are also common among more secular Arabs about perceived Western meddling in the affairs of predominantly Muslim countries, a stance that hardened with the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq.
The regional stakes grew when Islamist gunmen attacked a desert gas plant in neighboring Algeria last week, seized hundreds of hostages and demanded that France end its campaign in Mali.
Algerian troops stormed the complex at the weekend. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said 37 foreign workers died and seven are missing.
Mursi condemned the hostage-taking and said Egypt stood by Algeria.
"This situation is sensitive," he said. "We stand against military aggression or military intervention in Mali and we will stand by Algeria ... or any situation that would risk the safety of any Arab country."
Algeria has one of the most rigidly secularist elites in the Arab world. Its army-backed government overturned an election in 1992 which Islamists were poised to win and then fought a conflict with them in which about 200,000 people were killed.
(Reporting by Ali Abdelatti; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Amena Bakr; Editing by William Maclean and Tom Pfeiffer)