This report is part of the "Hajj (Pilgrimage) to Washington" Project published by Sasapost; it covers the activities of Middle East lobbies in the United States between 2010-2020. Most of the information in the report is based on documents from a database belonging to the US Department of Justice, operating under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). This legislation requires lobbyists to disclose their activities and funds; all documents are accessible for browsing on the Internet.
The files on the Egyptian lobbies are extremely important. Over the last decade, Egypt has undergone radical changes in the domestic political scene and in regional alliances. This report seeks to answer the question: what happened in the Washington lobbies in the early years of the January Revolution and over the last decade?
There are more than 220 documents about Egypt covering the period of 2010-2020. They provide an insight into the Egyptian Army's movements, specifically the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in 2011. They also draw a picture of the activities of the "counter-revolution" and of how the current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi tried to burnish his image and assert his presence in the US for the benefit of the Obama administration, and later on, for his "friend" Donald Trump.
Egyptian records reveal the sums paid for these services and the names of the personalities behind the staging of the Egyptian Army's interaction with the US authorities during this period.
Read part 2 of this report: The Emirati lobby: The biggest spender and the largest Arab one
Overview: What does the Egyptian lobby in Washington look like over the last decade?
Our reading through the Egyptian files begins in the period extending from late 2009 to early 2010. During this time, the deposed President Hosni Mubarak's regime had contracts with three major lobbying firms in Washington. Once the revolution broke out and Mubarak was ousted, these firms continued to provide services to the SCAF, referred to as the Military Council.
The Military Council continued to work with these firms for a year. It ended ties with them in February 2012, after launching campaigns against US civil organisations in which US activists worked. In the aftermath of the campaigns, the US media pressured the lobbying firms to sever their relations with the SCAF.
Ensuing this, the Egyptian files show a significant gap as of February 2012, during which all Egyptian political forces and institutions, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government led by Mohamed Morsi, were entirely absent from the world of lobbying.
This absence continued until the military overthrow of Morsi, the Rabaa massacre and the events that followed, until October 2013, when Egypt reappeared in the lobbying arena through a contract in favour of the Egyptian government.
This was the first contract in favour of the "new regime" and continued until the beginning of 2017. Afterwards, things were different, and the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate stepped in, side-stepping the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the Egyptian Embassy in Washington. It signed three direct contracts with a firm engaged in lobbying and a public relations and promotions firm. Trump's victory in the US presidency coincided with the entry of the Egyptian intelligence services onto the US lobbying scene.
'Down with Mubarak' and 'long live the SCAF'
One might consider that the revolution of 25 January was a decisive event in the last decade of Egypt's history. The fall of Mubarak after his 30-year reign paved the way for many forces to enter the political arena. Ironically, the Egyptian Army was ready to exploit the revolution to expand its control over both society and the Egyptian state.
Speaking of the contracts of Mubarak's regime, such agreements began in August 2007. Mubarak held contracts with three firms that served him and then continued to serve the SCAF. Details about the services they provided to the SCAF (between 2011 and 2012) and their contacts with the US government are available here: https://www.sasapost.co/scaf-in-washington/
Americans in the Army service
The first firm that worked for the SCAF was The Livingston Group, a major lobbying firm in Washington. The Livingston Group was founded by Bob Livingston, a Republican who was a long-time congressman and almost got the job of speaker of the house, but retired from politics in 1998 following a sex scandal. This, however, opened the door wide open for Livingston to enter the world of lobbying, specifically working for Egypt.
Here are the most notable services provided by The Livingston Group:
- The firm coordinated and arranged the SCAF delegations' trips to Washington and visits to Congress, led by Major General Mohamed Al-Assar and Major General Fouad Abdel Halim.
- The firm liaised with US military entities, including the US Central Command, the Egyptian Command Office and the US chiefs of staff.
- The firm liaised with the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council.
- The firm coordinated visits for Faiza Abou El-Naga, minister of planning and international cooperation at the time, and Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian ambassador to Washington at the time.
- The overall 2011 payments to this firm amounted to $289,000.
Other delegations visiting Congress
The second lobbying firm is the Moffett Group, named after its founder Toby Moffett, a former US congressman.
The most significant actions undertaken by the Moffett Group are as follows:
- The firm coordinated visits for delegations from the Military Council to Congress, including a delegation led by Major General Mohammed Al-Kashki, then the Egyptian military attaché in Washington.
- The firm coordinated meetings for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, some of which were with Yasser Al-Najjar, at the time the deputy head of the Diplomatic Mission at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington.
- The firm reached out to Congress and provided media representation for the Military Council to US media.
- The overall payments made to the firm in 2011 amounted to $277,000.
The 'Hillary clique'
The last lobbying firm on the Military Council's list is the Podesta Group. The group is particularly noteworthy due to its deep and extensive connections with the Democratic Party and many Obama administration figures.
The most crucial relationship of the firm is its "political marriage" to the Clintons. The firm is headed by Tony Podesta and his brother John Podesta, Bill Clinton's former White House chief of staff. Podesta headed the Obama transition team and was also the founder of the Centre for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank. It is worth noting that Hillary Clinton was the US secretary of state at the time.
The relationship between the two parties can be crudely described as follows: a dollar paid into the Podesta Group's pocket earns you a sympathetic listening ear in Clinton's State Department.
In summary, the Podesta Group undertook the following:
- The firm lobbied within Congress to fully resume US aid to the Egyptian Army worth $1.30 billion.
- The firm lobbied the chairpersons of important Senate committees: the Intelligence Committee, the Appropriations Committee (responsible for aid) and the Armed Forces Committee.
- The firm liaised with the US Military Attaché in Cairo Major General Joseph Lengyel of the US Air Force.
- The firm's total bill for 2011 amounted to $361,000.
The three firms were forced to terminate their contract with Egypt in January 2012, after the Egyptian security forces raided a group of US civil society organisations' offices operating in Cairo, culminating in a long campaign against them during the first year of the revolution. Following the raids, the firms were subjected to widespread and sharp criticism from the US media for their work to justify what happened. It was within this context that the termination of the contract occurred.
Sisi maintains his presidential position, while US presidents keep changing
It could be said that the Obama administration had a "passing dispute" with the new regime in Egypt after the events of 3 July, 2013. US President Barack Obama had never met with Morsi. His meeting with El-Sisi on 25 September, 2014, was the first meeting with an Egyptian president since 2010.
Months after the military coup against Morsi and the subsequent massive violations and extrajudicial killings that culminated in the Rabaa massacre, the Obama administration announced a "partial" suspension of aid earmarked for Egypt in October 2013.
Although this suspension angered the Egyptian regime and prompted it to move intensively in Congress, it was in fact only partial, as only $260 million in financial aid was suspended, meaning that at least $1 billion was still being provided to the Egyptian Army.
The military aspect of the suspension included stopping the transfer of combat helicopters, missiles, parts for tanks and F-16 fighters, but the US continued to provide parts and ammunition for other US weapons and equipment in addition to training for Egyptian security personnel in the US.
Ultimately, the Obama administration lifted the partial embargo on the transfer of weapons and aid in early April 2015.
El-Sisi's response to these pressures was two-fold. He did not make any promises or guarantees regarding human rights or the opening up of the public sphere and political life. At the same time, he continued intelligence cooperation with the US and Israel – this being his key to securing his meeting with Obama, which granted legitimacy to El-Sisi after the latest dispute.
Less than a year after the meeting, in August 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo, accompanied by a large delegation of US officials who met with their Egyptian counterparts to resume "strategic dialogue". This marked a starting point for turning a new page in the relations between the two countries, thus bringing to an end disputes of the recent past.
Some US analysts have provided an analysis of how the Obama administration dealt with El-Sisi. Among the most prominent of analyses is one by David Kirkpatrick, the well-known New York Times reporter, who ran the newspaper's office in Cairo from 2011 to 2014. He wrote a book, Into the Hands of the Soldiers, where he gave detailed accounts and live testimonies on the US administration's position on the revolution in Egypt.
Kirkpatrick believes that President Obama's stance on Egypt was governed by a conflict between two different currents within his administration. The first is a fledgeling current that tried to modify the foundations of US foreign policy in the Middle East by aligning itself with demands to undermine the claims of "anti-Westernism" used by "extremist" groups.
In general, this current carries a different vision of the US in the Middle East, which goes beyond the red lines drawn up by Israel. On his first visit to the Middle East, this team pressured Obama to refrain from passing through Israel while he visited Turkey and Egypt. During this visit, he delivered his famous speech at Cairo University, as well as his speech in the Turkish parliament.
The second current consists of veteran State Department officials and elderly political advisors, in addition to right-wing figures from the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other security and military agencies, some of whom later worked with Trump, as Kirkpatrick points out.
During the 2011 revolution, the first current saw it fit that Obama issue a statement in support of the revolution and calling for Mubarak to step down. In contrast, the second "veteran" current believed in the need for "patience" for Mubarak to fix things and calmly leave the scene. Some of the second approach figures, such as Biden, had a clear position, even going as far as defending Mubarak. Days before Mubarak's fall, Biden emphasised that he was the "most appropriate ally" for the US, refusing to describe him as a "dictator".
An interview with Biden as Obama's vice president, just before Mubarak's fall. This analysis is further corroborated by statements made by Robert Gates, the first US defence secretary to Obama, and the last one to George W. Bush between 2006 and June 2011.
In an interview in 2016, Gates described Obama and the first current as "unrealistically idealists". He cited what happened with Mubarak in 2011 to explain what he meant. Gates mentions a call with Obama in which Mubarak stated: "I will leave in October 2011, my son will not run for the presidency, and I will designate my vice president to replace me, and he will then step down to retire permanently."
Part of an interview with Gates.
Gates and his colleagues stressed the need to slow down and give Mubarak a chance. Gates was backed by officials such as Biden, who was Obama's vice president at the time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chief of Staff Michael Mullen and Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper.
This team had the upper hand following the military overthrow of Morsi, and Obama's refusal to call what happened a "coup" was simply a practical approval of it. Kirkpatrick believes that this silence from Obama paved the way for Trump, who described El-Sisi as "my favourite dictator".
Sisi's first contracts in Washington
The contract comes two months after the Rabaa massacre, and months before major strides in El-Sisi's political career. The first of which is the referendum to draft a new constitution for Egypt in January 2014, and then the official election of El-Sisi as president of Egypt in June of the same year.
The Glover Park Group incurred the burden of representing a government with a horrific human rights record. This is why the contract was costly, stipulating $250,000 per month as the company's fees, which, comparatively speaking, is a considerable amount in the lobbying market.
Comparing it with what the Military Council paid, the amount becomes significant, as The Glover Park Group earns nearly $3 million annually. In contrast, in 2011, the three Military Council firms were paid only $927,000.
In the first two years, the company focused on lobbying Congress and its senior members who opposed El-Sisi, such as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and his colleague John McCain. Ensuing two years of continuous contact with Graham, the company managed to reverse his position to become one of El-Sisi 's supporters in Congress.
The firm carried out lobbying campaigns targeting Congress and coordinated trips for Congress members to visit Egypt to meet with El-Sisi and Abbas Kamel, who later in 2018, became head of the General Intelligence Directorate. There were also meetings with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. These efforts succeeded in altering the positions of other congressmen, most of whom were Republicans insisting on the need to support Egypt "regardless of human rights", in order to be able to confront ISIS with full force.
'We want to have an impact on what is happening in Egypt, this is done by keeping the aid, not by cutting it.'
– Angus King, independent US Senator.
The firm sought to build relations in Congress for El-Sisi and establish alliances with personalities who had political goals intersecting with those of El-Sisi. Therefore, it established contact, for instance, with members of Congress who had reservations about the Arab Spring revolutions and the political change they brought in Egypt that may harm Israeli security.
The firm continued its intensive work until early 2017, after which its momentum faded with the Egyptian intelligence entering into the world of lobbying.
The following are some of the firm's services provided to El-Sisi:
- The firm connected El-Sisi with senior members of Congress, including Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham.
- The firm promoted El-Sisi in Congress through the narrative "either El-Sisi or extremism and terrorism".
- The firm made contacts with the Department of Defence, the State Department, US media and think tanks.
- The firm coordinated tours of Congress for Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Shoukry.
- The firm's payments for services provided between 2013-2019 amounted to $13,250,000, an enormous price in the lobby market.
For details of El-Sisi's first contract with lobbying groups, click here.
Intelligence services and foreign affairs
When the name of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate surfaced in Washington, it was uncommon. It sparked US media criticism of how an intelligence agency could hire a political lobbying and public relations firm directly under its name, instead of hiring the firm through the Egyptian Embassy or the Foreign Ministry.
The intelligence services signed three contracts, two of which were on 18 January, 2017, two days before Trump entered the White House. All these contracts were signed by Major General Nasser Fahmy in his capacity as director of administrative affairs within the intelligence service.
Knocking on Congress's doors
The intelligence services obtained political lobbying from its contract with Cassidy and Associates. Terry Powell, a government relations expert in charge of coordination between the Pentagon and Congress in legislative matters, works for the firm along with Russell Thomason, who has served 15 years in Congress with senior Republican senators, the most prominent of whom is their current leader, Mitch McConnell.
The firm built contacts with Congress members with different interests, some of whom were worried about the war against ISIS and the security of Israel, while others were closely following the situation of Copts in Egypt. Others had ideological stances and were continuously working to put the Muslim Brotherhood on the US terrorism list.
This contract expired on 18 April, 2018. The following is a summary of the primary services that the firm provided to the intelligence services:
- The firm contacted the Foreign Affairs leaders, the Appropriations (responsible for aid) and the Armed Forces committees.
- The firm was able to influence the positions of members of Congress to support El-Sisi.
- In its communications, the firm emphasised the issue of the Copts, the ISIS attacks against them and the role of El-Sisi in protecting them.
- The firm's bill from early 2017 to April 2018 amounted to $787,000.
Building a new image for Sisi in Washington
The second contract was with CMGRP, which focused on building a "soft" image of El-Sisi in Washington and identifying the US decision-makers whose support for Egyptian intelligence was needed. The firm offered some political services, but its primary business was promotion.
The firm's relationship with the intelligence services ended on 28 July, 2017, but a sister company continued to operate under a new contract.
The following is a summary of its most significant actions for the intelligence services:
- Coordinating the visit of an Egyptian parliamentary delegation to Washington to visit Congress and meet with US research centres.
- The firm established an English-language news platform to promote Egypt and El-Sisi, named Egypt Forward.
- The firm reached out to US think tanks and sought to publish opinion columns in US newspapers.
- The firm's bill from January to July 2017 amounted to $1,194,000.
Targeting the US right and Israel's supporters
The third contract is a follow-up to the second one and works on media and promotional campaigns implemented by APCO Worldwide, beginning on 28 July, 2017.
Aside from media relations, the company contacted right-wing and conservative research centres, including the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, a staunch pro-Israel US think tank.
The company also contacted the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Foundation for Defence of Democracies. Both centres are close to the pro-Israel lobby and are affiliated with the right-wing conservative movement that supports military action in US foreign policy.
With Biden about to enter the White House, Egypt focuses on 'religious rights'
The 2020 US presidential election raised high hopes that the Biden administration would carry out a pressure campaign on Arab regimes' human rights files.
Just as the Arab masses attentively watched the US elections, so did the Arab regimes, including Egypt, with caution and apprehension about the next guest to rule from the White House.
The US elections were held on 3 November, 2020, and the subsequent contract was signed on 9 November, only six days after the elections. Two days later, El-Sisi congratulated Biden on winning the elections.
Egypt hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a legal firm specialising in political lobbying. The contract was signed by the new Egyptian Ambassador to Washington Motaz Zahran, who took his post in September 2020.
The monthly fee for the contract was $65,000. The contract does not contain a detailed indication of the type or nature of the company's services in its clauses, only stating that the company will act as a representative and advisor to the Egyptian Embassy and the Egyptian ambassador in Washington. The contract specifies an agreement between the two parties that a team from the company travels at least once a year to visit Egypt.
However, the real significance of the contract lies in the names chosen to undertake the work. Those responsible for the firm's business performed for the benefit of Egypt are two key persons, Ed Royce and Nadim Al-Shami.
Royce is a former Republican lawmaker in Congress who played an essential role in heading the Foreign Relations Committee from 2013 until the end of 2018. Egypt had previously liaised with him under various circumstances, including communicating with him in the second half of 2013. It is reported that he sponsored a statement during the events of 2013, condemning the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi's "understanding" of democracy, calling on the army to act with caution.
Al-Shami served in Congress for 25 years, including ten years as Nancy Pelosi's chief of staff and communications advisor. An introductory page on Al-Shami on the Georgetown University website states that he speaks fluent Arabic, with the Middle East Eye website indicating that Al-Shami grew up in Egypt.
On 9 January, 2021, the firm sent a document from Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry to a group of representatives in Congress discussing Egypt's important role in the stability and fight against what the document referred to as "global terrorism, extremism and radicalism". The message from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry emphasised the relevance of relations, not only between the two countries, but between the Egyptian and US armies, and the need for coordination between the two nations, particularly in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Libya and Syria.
Another document revealing the firm's efforts to promote El-Sisi is dated 29 January, 2021. The firm distributed PR material on behalf of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highlighting the rights of Christians, Jews and religious minorities in Egypt. The document focuses on "religious rights" without mentioning any "political rights" for Egyptians, regardless of their religious affiliation. Perhaps these efforts are intended to improve the image of human rights in Egypt, without the need to make political concessions to the new US administration.
Ahmed Ezz: A businessman from the former regime hires lobbies to promote his case
Ahmed Ezz, an Egyptian businessman close to Gamal Mubarak and a member of the ruling party, the National Democratic Party, is a supporter and an "engineer" of Gamal Mubarak's succession to power attempts. Ezz has enjoyed economic privileges of his own as a result of his extensive political ties.
Days after Mubarak's fall, a ruling was issued on 18 February, 2011, ordering the arrest of Ezz, along with another group of ministers, government officials and businessmen accused of illegal gains. In March 2013, during Morsi's presidency, Ezz was sentenced to 37 years in prison.
Less than a month after his arrest, his daughter Afaf signed a contract with Qorvis Communications for lobbying and public relations to promote his case and present it to US politicians, including Adam Schiff, the Democratic minority leader in the Intelligence Committee. The firm reached out to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Armed Forces.
The firm's efforts included contacting human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International in Washington, and the US media, including The Washington Post.
Afaf paid $291,000 for this contract which expired on 1 March, 2012. In August 2014, one month after Morsi was ousted, Ezz was released with a fine of 100 million Egyptian pounds. For a more detailed account on Ezz's contract, click here.
Translated from Sasapost, 21 February 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.