Have all of Egypt's lobbyists gone?

The news that several of the Egyptian government's main lobbyists in Washington have ended their contracts should come as a wake-up call to the Egyptian military, its foreign ministry and Minister of Asking Khawagas for Fluss Fayza Aboul Naga. These were powerhouse lobbyists:

The lobbying firms include the Livingston Group, run by former Representative Robert L. Livingston, Republican of Louisiana; the Moffett Group, run by former Representative Toby Moffett, Democrat of Connecticut; and the Podesta Group, owned by Tony Podesta, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. Mr. Podesta has close ties to the Obama administration.

The firms were widely criticized for distributing talking points defending the Egyptian government’s raid. They shared a lobbying contract worth more $1.1 million a year to represent Egypt’s interests in Washington, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

Until recently these lobbyists were backing the Egyptian government line that these NGOs were operating illegally. I wonder what it takes for a lobbyist to drop these kinds of contracts; after all it's not like we're talking major human rights violations here (like the killing of protestors in the last few months). I guess it must have been that the lobbyists were exasperated that the Egyptians took action against their advice that alienated powerful congressmen. I've met American lobbyists for Egypt before and they're all livid that the Egyptian generals treat the Foreign Military Assistance package as "our money" – you can imagine how well that goes down with the representative or senator who is appropriating that funding.

This leaves the power of Egyptian lobbying in the US quite frail, particularly since a major lobbying and PR contract that had been controlled by Ahmed Ezz (and was mostly used to advocate for Gamal Mubarak as a business-minded reformist) has now been repurposed to makeover Ezz as some persecuted entrepreneur who does not deserve to be in prison. In short, I'm not sure who is left lobbying for the Egyptian government or the military, which perhaps explains why a military delegation has been sent to Washington to sort out the mess caused by the whole NGO fiasco.

Of succession and lobbying

[Ed. note: This post contained numerous typos and has been edited to correct them.]

This piece by David Roberts of The Gulf Blog about a looming succession crisis in the emirate of Ras al-Khaima is one of the most interesting pieces on a part of the Arab world I don't know well I've read in a while. Like my previous post on Tunisia hiring lobbyists in DC and other posts on lobbying efforts by Arab government I've done before, it illustrates the extent to which these governments (each their own variation of grotesque) have completely internalized the need to appeal to and cajole US politicians, the American public and Washington, DC power brokers for their own internal strength.

It starts off with a classic succession battle in one of the emirates you rarely hear about (at least outside the UAE) between Sheikh Saud, the Crown Prince and son of the Sheikh Saqr al-Qisimi, the emirate's dying leader, and his half-brother Sheikh Khalid (formerly the Crown Prince and now in exile):

What is different in this case is the 21st century manner in which Khalid has gone about resuming his place in line to the throne. Much like the Emirates’ economy is described as a ‘rentier’ in nature with their income (or rent) largely derived from oil and gas with an exceedingly heavy reliance of foreign workers, this appears to be a rentier coup. Specifically, Khalid hired Californian Strategies, an American public relations firm to devise a plan to return him to power. Some members of the PR staff even reportedly get a $250,000 bonus if they succeed.

Cognisant of exactly what will grab the attention of America and the world at large, the PR agency — paid some $3.7 million to date according to The Guardian — began to formulate an image of Khalid as a Western-orientated, modern, pragmatic, facebook and twitter-friendly leader. They even arranged meetings and photo opportunities with, for example, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Saud, in stark contrast, was depicted as either fostering or at least harbouring terrorist elements including Al Qaeda. The decision of the America’s Cup yachting team not to stop off in RAK due to alleged terrorist concerns was one strand of this ploy. Moreover, RAK’s close links to Iran and their Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) were highlighted. RAK was portrayed as an offshore sanctions-busting Mecca for Iran; a ‘rogue state’ within the UAE.

The PR agency collated these charges into a report (with similar visual similarities to official US Congressional Research Service reports) which opens with the line “Closest to Iran and furthest from UAE central authority is the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, which lies some 60 miles from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and enjoys excellent deep-water ports.” From the very beginning, therefore, insinuation and nefarious implications abound.

This blog has over the years made much of the disinformation and simply bad information that is bandied about in the US media about this part of the world. Some of it, and I'm beginning to think more than I previously thought, may be attributable to paid disinformation agents, propaganda, and PR firms who are able to take advantage of a media environment with fewer and fewer experienced foreign correspondents and budgets for oversea travel.

But coming back to my pain point, it's quite sobering to see that, in these succession crises, the pretenders to the throne see it as an essential part of their strategy to spend money on lobbying the Americans. Remember how Muatassim al-Qadhafi launched a major lobbying and PR initiative when his brother Seif was estranged last year. 

Which brings me to introducing a new website, which I believed in the most polished Egyptian government site out there: www.modernegypt.info. The contact section says it's been put up by the press and information office of the Egyptian embassy in Washington. Which is headed by Karim Haggag, the press attaché at the embassy. And what did Haggag do before that?

He was Gamal Mubarak's personal secretary.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

On Egyptian lobbying in the US

From the same collection of ProPublica articles on foreign lobbying in the US as the post on Morocco, here is a spotlight on Egypt's efforts:
Egypt, historically one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, mounted a large lobbying effort, employing PLM Group — a joint venture of two well-connected K Street firms, the Podesta Group, headed by Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, and the Livingston Group, founded by former Republican Rep. Robert Livingston of Louisiana — to preserve that funding between October 2007 and October 2008. The stakes are not small: Egypt has received more than $50 billion from the United States since 1975. The United States agreed to large foreign aid payments to Egypt and Israel in 1978 following the historic peace agreement negotiated by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. As the Arab nation’s economy has eroded, excess American aid has allowed it to put off much-needed changes rather than spur them, critics say. Lobbyists for Egypt had at least 279 contacts on military issues, the bulk of which occurred when PLM Group accompanied delegations of Egyptian military officers to meet members of Congress, administration officials and representatives from defense contractors — including BAE Systems, General Dynamics, General Electric, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. All five have done business with the Egyptian government, selling tanks, fighter jets, howitzers and radar arrays to its military. At the time of the meeting with the contractors, Podesta Group counted BAE Systems, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin among its clients, while the Livingston Group represented Raytheon.
Incidentally, Egypt is ranked at #6 globally in terms of the number of contacts with Congress. The info used for this reporting is made available by ForeignLobbying.org, through which you can look at individual countries' records. Here's the page for Egypt, which shows three Egyptian lobbying clients: the government, the government-backed textile exporters' association Alcotex, and -- this is a surprise -- the steel magnate and Gamal Mubarak acolyte Ahmed Ezz. If you look at the page for Ahmed Ezz is says that Ezz paid the communication firm Qorvis for its work promoting the National Democratic Party conference in 2007. Which confirms what is widely said about Ezz: he finances the NDP out of his personal pocket; why else would the party not pay its PR firm itself? Here you have the cronyism of Egyptian politics in black-and-white.
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On Moroccan lobbying in the US

Morocco is one of the biggest spenders in US lobbying over the Western Sahara:
The Western Sahara is an inhospitable patch of desert about the size of Colorado on Africa’s Atlantic coast, with a population of about 400,000, a GDP of only $900 million, and an economy based on nomadic herding, fishing and phosphorous mining. It is also one of the last colonies in the world — Morocco annexed it a few years after Spain granted it independence in 1975 — and the subject of 34 U.N. Security Council resolutions on the territory since 1999. In late 2007 and 2008, the desert region was a top priority for Morocco’s hired lobbyists. At issue was Western Sahara’s autonomy, but the story also shows how, in a foreign lobbying arms race, the side with the biggest arsenal can come out on top. The government of Morocco sought the support of Congress in this lengthy territorial dispute. The region has long demanded independence. An indigenous insurgent group, the Polisario Front, waged a guerrilla war against the Moroccan military until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991. Part of the terms of that deal included holding a referendum to determine the territory’s final status, but no vote has been held. In 2007, Morocco issued a proposal to grant Western Sahara autonomy within sovereign Morocco. The U.S. initially welcomed the proposal, and direct talks began between Morocco and the Polisario with the involvement of Algeria, which supports self-determination for the Sahrawi tribes from the area. Toby Moffett, a lobbyist for Morocco who served as a Democratic congressman from Connecticut in the 1970s and ’80s, wrote an op-ed for the April 8, 2007, edition of The Los Angeles Times,explaininghow he presented Morocco’s position to an unnamed member of Congress: “Morocco has a good story to tell,” he wrote. “It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the Western Sahara must be resolved. “We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible Al Qaeda training area,” he wrote. “Algeria and the Polisario recently hired lobbyists, too, so we’ll have our hands full.” Indeed, records show the Algerian government’s lobbyists had 36 contacts with members of Congress and staff promoting self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. The Algerians paid a modest $416,000 in lobbying fees. By comparison, lobbyists for the government of Morocco had 305 contacts with members of Congress and their staff. Morocco paid $3.4 million in lobbying expenses — putting it among the top foreign government spenders for FARA filings in the period. The intense campaign won converts. A bipartisan group of some 173 House members signed on to a statement supporting Morocco’s offer of autonomy for the region without formal independence. President Bush also expressed support for Morocco’s plan in summer of 2008. And this April, 229 representatives sent a letter to President Obama urging him to back Morocco. Until Obama reversed Bush’s stance last month, Morocco’s investment worked.
The article also briefly mentions Egypt lobbying, which I'll post about separately. Also see this article which has the countries that are top spenders in US lobbying. From the Arab world, the list includes (I list the ranking from the global list): #1 United Arab Emirates (nearly half of which is Dubai alone) #5 Iraq #6 Morocco #7 Saudi Arabia
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