Congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s Interview with Mr. Tony Perkins
Washington Watch with Tony Perkins
9 January 2019, 5:22-5:39 PM EST
Mr. Perkins: As I mentioned, I have been in Egypt. [I was] invited there by the Coptic Church and by the Government to participate in the opening of the Coptic Cathedral that took place Sunday night. But, recently, in fact the first act that the new Democratic Congress, one of the first acts they did, was actually cut military funding to Egypt. Now this is despite the fact that we’re talking about the post-Muslim Brotherhood Government that is trying to curtail Islamic extremism and to expand religious freedom in that country, or tolerance I should say.
Joining me now to talk about it is Nebraska Congressman, Jeff Fortenberry, who actually spent time as a youth in Egypt and is part of the Egypt Caucus in the Congress. Jeff, welcome back to Washington Watch.
Congressman Fortenberry: Tony, thanks so much for having me on. I am excited to learn of your trip to Egypt. I really appreciate your deep, abiding interest in the fundamental questions of civilization which revolved around the sacred space of conscience as it manifests itself in religious freedom, and your willingness to take a particular interest in Egypt because I don’t think we in America nor really the World understands just how critical a vibrant, healthy, pluralistic, united Egypt is for peace in the world.
Mr. Perkins: Well, its geographically, historically it is positioned at the right place to have an influence literally throughout the Middle East and into Africa. And so, I know you’ve tracked this carefully, but in fact in the Embassy [of the United States in Cairo] my conversations over there with governmental personnel, the question was why this step when they’re making the right moves, why is Congress cutting military funding to a country that really needs it and is quite frankly still a little bit unsettled after the Muslim Brotherhood?
Congressman Fortenberry: Yeah, it’s something that I oppose. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Secretary Pompeo did the right thing and release the funding for the military in the recent appropriations bill. But we need to send the right message to Egypt. It’s not a perfect place. It’s not a thriving liberal democracy and market like we would understand it. However, when President Sisi took office, one of the first things he did was go on to national television and had the Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros and the Grand Imam on both sides of him, and he said to the camera, “We are Egyptians.”
There’s a healthy nationalism in Egypt. The opening of this new cathedral and the President’s presence there as well as him inviting Christian leaders to the opening of the Grand Mosque shows very significant movement toward tolerance and a healthy form of nationalism around the unity of the idea of being Egyptian by creating this space. I think the United States needs to recognize that. I think the United States has a very robust military-to-military exchange and a grid set of agreements that go back to 1979.
When I went in the Sinai Desert as a young man in 1979, on a twisted pile of concrete and rubble there were the words scrawled in both English and Arabic, “Here was the war. Here is the peace.” And that’s where the ‘73 War was fought. Egypt went to great lengths to make peace with Israel. It’s been a peace that’s held ever since. Because it’s been so far behind, its 40 years now, we forget just how substantive, how radical this was for Egypt to make a departure and try to seek peace with Israel.
We brokered that deal and, as a consequence, give Israel and Egypt significant amounts of military money. Yes, we want to see certain outcomes in their society and move in the right direction. But, the way to do that is to grab the hand of friendship even tighter, not push them away. They’re the traditional leader of the Arabic World. They are the seed of antiquity. Again, they have a healthy nationalism. They have approximately 10 million Christians who live there.
And if Egypt would have spiraled into defeat and the chaos after the dynamics of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, it would’ve been absolute disaster not just for the entire Middle East, but also the entire world. So, I think it’s the wrong thing to do. I am the Co-Chair of the Egyptian Caucus in Congress. We have to do a good job of explaining to the American people why this investment of funds is important.
And, Tony, I really apologize. I know you wanted to have a lengthier conversation but some scheduling problems have come up and I‘ve to give a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in about 30 seconds.
Mr. Perkins: Well, I will let you go speak on the House Floor, and I thank you for joining us. We will continue this conversation in the future.
Congressman Fortenberry: Thank you, Tony.
Mr. Perkins: Jeff Fortenberry, thanks so much for being with us.