Does April 6 really have a PR firm in the US?
Steve Cook writes, in Flacking The Revolution, that April 6 now has a PR company in the US:
Yesterday afternoon I became aware that a Beverly Hills-based public relations firm is representing Egypt’s April 6th Movement. In a small way, the movement’s ties to Levine Communications Office (LCO) reveals many of the incongruities and paradoxes that make Washington’s relations with the Arab world so fraught. To be fair, on a practical level, it makes a lot of sense: The firm is working for April 6th on a pro bono basis, it is sure to have a better list of press contacts than any Egyptian firm, the U.S. media market is the biggest in the world, and speaking to American reporters provides the movement a good way to try to influence the Obama administration.
On another level, the April 6th Movement’s relationship with LCO is curious given the group’s history and role in the Egyptian uprising. April 6th was founded in solidarity with Egyptian workers who had been engaged in wildcat strikes and job actions against the neo-liberal economic policies (hatched in Washington) that the Egyptian government was pursuing. A primary goal of the movement’s leadership was to convince workers that their economic problems were inextricably linked to the authoritarian nature of the Mubarak regime. Moroever, my understanding is that the underlying causes of the uprising—which would not have happened if not for the efforts of the April 6th Movement according to the message journalists received from LCO—were national dignity, authenticity, and empowerment. A primary component of the anger directed at Hosni Mubarak was his close alignment with the United States, which many Egyptians believed warped Egyptian foreign policy and compromised Cairo’s regional influence.
I’d treat this news with some caution — April 6 has had problems with members doing and saying things that go against its leaders’ policies in the past. In the current environment of a witchhunt against foreign funding, it's worth approaching this with caution. I’ve emailed LCO asking them for a clarification, we’ll see what they say. Let me know if you have any info in the comments.
A reader wrote in to ask, "so what?" and why would I have objections over April 6 retaining the services of a PR firm. Here's what I wrote back:
I'm not objecting — on the contrary it seems smart in the long term, although of limited usefulness right now. But in the current Egyptian media environment this is a dangerous thing, there is a lot of sensitivity about the US and accusations thrown at April 6 that it is accepting foreign funding, etc. so they should have an explanation ready about why they're doing this.
The other thing is that there has been confusion before — some members of April 6 have carried out initiatives without the approval of the group before, and have been kicked out for it. I just wanted to exercise some caution about taking for granted that this is an official April 6 move.
I should also add that Ahmed Maher, with whom LCO is involved, appears to have been marginalized with April 6. Thanassis Cambanis reports:
In the last few months, a rift emerged between Maher's circle and other April 6 leaders. The movement now has effectively split, although there hasn't been a public announcement of it and both factions use similar logos and names. The breakaway faction, which calls itself the April 6 Movement and is prioritizing protest and political mobilization, appears by far larger. "There was no internal democracy," said Tarek El-Khouly, one of the leaders. "There was no transparency. [Ahmed Maher] wouldn't tell us if he was getting foreign funds."
Ahmed Maher and his associates are known in the activist community now as the April 6 foundation or NGO, and are focusing more on public education and outreach about the democratic process.
The split says something about the entropy and divisiveness among Egypt's activists, whose courage and persistence is sadly, but not unexpectedly, often matched by interpersonal rivalries.
My advice to both April 6 wings: more transparency builds trust.
Steve Cook updates his earlier post with the text of the PR release from LCO.