- - President Sisi fulfilled his promise by providing constitutional guarantees of rebuilding churches and does everything possible to ensure the safety of Christians.
- - We are communicating with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to re-institute aid. Egypt is an important U.S. ally in the Middle East and must have enough resources to combat terrorism.
- - I have a strong relationship with Sisi, and I support his regime. He is a powerful president. I have no objections to the new NGO Law, as some NGOs seek to sabotage Egypt. A Congress delegation is to visit Egypt soon.
CAIRO – 20 October 2017: House of Representatives member from Iowa’s 4th congressional district and member of the Judiciary Committee, which passed a bill designating the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group as a terrorist organization, Steve King said that the decision to cut aid from Cairo is unfortunate.
King, known for his support to Egypt, said that the Egypt is an important U.S. ally and that he is communicating with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to reinstitute it, as it is important to help the country in its war against terrorism and the MB. In this exclusive Egypt Today interview, King talks about the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act, saying that there are lobbies in Congress against passing it in order to preserve U.S.-Turkish relations. He revealed details about it, indicating that it is a difficult act to pass.
As for the NGO Law, he commented, “I have no objections to it.” He expressed his support to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who, alongside the leaders of the UAE and Jordan, represents a great power in the region. He added that a Congress delegation will visit Egypt soon. He also talked about Iran, Egyptian-U.S. relations, Egyptian-Russian relations, and other issues.
You recently met the Egyptian Parliament delegation in Washington, and this visit was the first of its kind since 2008. How important was it?
First, we have been regularly holding meetings in Washington with the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. I have met a number of members of Parliament (MPs) in my office during their visit to Washington, and we had some fruitful discussions. This visit was a crucial step in reconnecting with this venerable Parliament. Certainly, this was a very important visit, as it is the first since years of stagnant relations between the Egyptian Parliament and Congress. These meetings help us understand many issues and resolve any misunderstandings between us. They also help us better understand the needs of the Egyptians.
How do you see the role of the Egyptian Parliament now?
I see that current Egyptian MPs are exerting efforts to strengthen relations between their Parliament, the Congress, the European Parliament and a number of other legislative authorities in the world. These improve Egypt’s foreign relations and reinforce its role in the future.
How about the new NGO Law? I believe it is a cause for concern to many decision-makers here.
There was considerable debate about it. However, personally, I have no objections to the message the law sends to NGOs. Some NGOs seek to sabotage democracy in Egypt. I support the government and President al-Sisi in their keen efforts to set this straight. Also, people’s voices need to be heard when it comes to this issue, because some people believe the work of NGOs should not be regulated. However, in Egypt, I see the opposite is true. Hence, I support the voices of the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government led by President al-Sisi.
Have you paid an official visit to Egypt in the past? What do you think about al-Sisi?
Yes, I visited Egypt five times before and met President al-Sisi. He is a powerful president, and we have a strong relationship. I have noticed he is keen on establishing friendly relations with Copts, as he visited the Cathedral to wish the Pope a merry Christmas. He gave orders to rebuild churches destroyed by the MB. He also had a powerful reaction to the Libya incident. I believe Egypt and the U.S. have developed good relations. Soon, a Congress delegation is expected to visit Egypt and meet a number of officials and MPs.
U.S. aid to Egypt has been cut and other aid delayed. Why? What is your opinion about this decision?
The decision to cut U.S. aid to Egypt is definitely unfortunate. It takes us back to Obama’s policies toward the Middle East, but we do not need to do that. Obama’s policies led to the emergence of more terrorist groups, like the MB and the Islamic State (IS) group. These misleading policies seek to undermine powerful leaders like Sisi. Egypt is strategic U.S. ally in the region, and it is crucial for us to help it with enough resources in its quest to vanquish terrorism and extremism and deal with the aftermath of the MB rule. Aid is given to enhance Egypt’s military power in order to achieve stability in the region, and this is one of America’s goals.
It is important for us to see Egypt as a permanent powerful ally to the U.S. We cannot let Egypt become a stronghold for terror and radical Islam, which threatens the region as a whole and constitutes a threat to U.S. interests as well.
Since you believe the decision is unfair, what are you going to do about it?
A number of Congress members who have the same vision toward Egypt agree that it is necessary to support it during this critical period. They also agree that the MB should be designated as a terrorist group. Some of these Congress members are Arizona’s Trent Franks, Texas’ Louie Gohmert and North Carolina’s Robert Pittenger. We condemn this decision, and we are in talks with Tillerson to reinstitute aid. Trump is in favor of providing the aid, but the Department of State’s decision undermines our efforts to combat terrorism in the region.
What is your opinion about Egyptian-U.S. relations in different periods, especially during Obama’s term?
Relations are now good, and Trump is keen on improving them. A number of meetings were held between members of Congress and Sisi. The latest of these was an informal meeting in Sisi’s residence in New York during his participation in the last UN meetings. There was a number of other meetings in Cairo in the past.
To be honest, I was concerned about the deterioration and stagnancy that befell Egyptian-U.S. relations during Obama’s term, thanks to some faulty decisions by the administration. Obama’s administration took the wrong side when it came to all regime changes that took place in the Middle East (the Arab Spring).
Egypt and the U.S. have been strong allies for a long time, a fact that could be historically proven. In 1954, U.S. President Eisenhower told the British that they must evacuate the Suez Canal, as it is a sovereign Egyptian territory, not a British one. In addition, in 1972, Americans stood with Egyptians and demanded Russians leave Egypt. However, during Obama’s term, I saw that foreign policy departed from this. When I speak with Americans who lived in Egypt, they tell me that since 2013 and 2014, Egyptian-U.S. relations have become 98% weaker. All this prompted me to work on improving their relation and making it powerful again.
You said you were concerned about Egypt’s fate. Why?
Yes, when I saw the MB in power and how they worked to impose Sharia Law to serve their interests and how they attempted to change Egyptian culture by imposing their “Islamist” culture, I was deeply concerned. I saw this happen in Iran. At some point, it used to be a country open to dealing with the Western world. It was making technological progress and welfare. When the Shah was overthrown and Khomeini came to power, Iran was transformed into a closed, backward society. I witnessed all this myself and was even part of it.
Did you expect Iran’s fate to be Egypt’s too?
Yes, I was concerned that Egypt would meet the same fate. We did not want Egypt to be brought back to the Stone Age as Iran or Turkey, especially that Egypt and the U.S. have maintained strong relations for years.
Were you concerned about Russian-Egyptian relations becoming stronger during Obama’s term?
Yes. I warned our Department of State about this. I also told our embassy in Egypt, “do not let Russians come to Egypt to sell military equipment. Do not let them expand their power in Egypt and weaken our relation with it.” We wanted to strengthen our relation with the Egyptian government. Back then, it was a transitional government headed by a transitional president, and Sisi was then the minister of defense. The U.S. embassy responded with “do not worry about Russians, as they have nothing to spare. In addition, Egyptians do not have enough funds to pay. Do not worry about visits by Russian military consultants to Egypt or any military cooperation between them.” However, less than a year later, Egypt signed a $3.2 billion weapon and military equipment deal with Russia, and the UAE provided a loan to fund it. I know President al-Sisi well, and I know how powerful he is. This instance is a clear demonstration of so.
You mentioned the UAE. Do you believe its role in the region is different now?
There is no doubt the UAE greatly expanded its role in the region, especially during the past few years. With Egypt, they constitute a power that cannot be underestimated. I think a lot about the UAE Crown Prince and President al-Sisi, as both are true leaders of the Arab world. With President Abdullah in Jordan, they form an important triangle and powerful network we can work with.
During Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his participation in the Riyadh Summit, I noticed how happy President al-Sisi, King Abdullah and the UAE Crown Prince seemed. I felt they were the happiest; perhaps others were not as so. Others might have reluctantly participated.
What do you think about Egypt’s role in the region, especially in relation to U.S. interests in the Middle East?
Egypt and the U.S. have mutual interests. Egypt is a peaceful country deserving of respect, and it is a strategic ally for us in the region. We are seeking to strengthen this relationship, reach compromises and stand together when it comes to core issues. I will not speak about Egypt as only a powerful ally for us in the region. Rather, we are trying to connect with moderate Sunni countries in the Middle East and form alliances with them, and Egypt has always been the basis upon which this group stands. If Egypt had remained under MB rule, the battle against Islamist extremism and ideology would have been lost, and this would have cost us around 25 years. If it had not been for Egyptians’ ability to overthrow the so-called MB rule, the world’s battle against terrorism would have been lost. I believe Egypt is the number one reason we will reach the stability we aspire for and put an end to the ideology they believe will “save” them in the Middle East and the whole world.
Do you believe MB rule was a disaster?
It was definitely a disaster. It compelled 33 million Egyptians to take to the streets, declaring they would not leave unless they reclaim their country from Morsi’s hands.
What is the latest about the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act? Why has not it been passed yet?
I support this law, and I believe the MB sponsored many terrorist organizations. However, we are facing some opposition from the Congress, as some members are against passing the act. They do not want to aggravate Erdogan in Turkey and are keen to preserve Turkish relations. I believe he is a dictator. I see that many MB members who fled Egypt went to Turkey where they found a safe haven. I want the MB to be designated as a terrorist organization, though we are finding problems with voting on this act.
Is the act still being discussed in Congress?
I look forward to holding hearings about it and voting on it. However, we have not succeeded at starting discussion about it so far. We discuss it ourselves, but have not held a hearing or voted on it so far.
Some members of Congress are concerned about this act because they know some countries may disagree with our decision, especially with Turkey. They want to maintain strong relations with it.
Because it is a member state of NATO.
Do you expect this Act to be passed soon?
I think this depends on Trump. If he — or even the Department of State — calls for a decision about it, we can pass it more quickly. However, I do not believe the Department of State is ready for this yet, because Tillerson is still dealing with U.S. ambassadors who were appointed by the Obama administration. It may take months until Tillerson appoints his own personnel. Only then, he can choose to send ambassadors to a number of countries, and we will lobby to pass this act.
Terrorist operations keep happening around the world. Does this not have an impact on passing this act?
Terrorist operations definitely raise Americans’ and all people’s awareness about the dangers of terrorism in general. In addition, there is a trend in American policy and society connecting the MB to terrorist operations, and more negative feelings are felt about it.
Do you see progress in reforming religious discourse?
We see that things are improving. I believe President al-Sisi realizes the importance of reforming religious discourse and undermining the ideology that supports intellectual terrorism. This can be seen in his speeches, when, for example, he spoke at Al-Azhar University or visits the Cathedral to wish the Pope and Copts a merry Christmas. This is a form of resistance to extremism and a step in the direction of reforming religious discourse.
Does sectarian strife influences your evaluation of the situation in Egypt?
Sisi is working hard to keep Christians secure, and looking at the current circumstances, we do not see any he is sparing any efforts in this regard. This reminds me that I met with President al-Sisi and with Amr Moussa, who was the head of the Constitutional Committee, and they promised me to include articles in the Egyptian constitution guaranteeing rebuilding Egyptian churches, which constitutes great support for Christianity in Egypt. I was told that this was actually done, and they both fulfilled their promise. I believe this is a core issue for establishing sound democracy in Egypt and this is truly amazing.
What do you think about Egypt’s battle against terrorism, especially in Sinai?
We are closely following the security situation in Egypt because it is the heart of the Arab world and a very important country in the Middle East as I said. Threats faced by the army in Sinai and posed by extremists may affect U.S. interests in the region. This is why we are attempting to further support Egypt against terrorism. We see that Sisi and the Egyptian army are standing strongly against terrorism. There is a powerful direction in Congress today to wholeheartedly support Egypt and make sure we continue to support the Egyptian military in spite of the U.S. budget deficit.
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