All three of the lobbying firms representing the Egyptian
government in Washington, D.C., dropped Egypt as a client late Friday amid
widespread criticism of the ruling military council's raid of U.S. NGOs in
Cairo and its refusal to let American NGO workers leave the country.
The Livingston Group, run by former
Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), the
Moffett Group, run by former Rep. Toby
Moffett (D-CT), and the Podesta Group, run by Tony Podesta, unanimously severed their combined $90,000 per month
contract with the Egyptian government, Politico
Friday, quoting Livingston directly. The
three firms had formed what is known as the PLM Group, a lobbying entity created to
advocate on behalf of the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in February
2011 after 18 days of massive street protests. According to the disclosure
filings, Egypt has paid PLM more than $4 million since 2007.
The trio came under fire last week
for circulating talking points
defending Egypt's Dec. 29 raid of several NGOs working to train political
parties in Egypt, including three organizations partially funded by the U.S.
government. The groups had been working in Egypt for years without being
technically registered with the government, but now stand accused of fomenting unrest
against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been ruling
the country since Mubarak's ouster.
"It is bad enough when the actions of
American lobbyists conflict with U.S. national interests. It is far worse when
their influence-peddling undermines American values, as the Egyptian
government's lobbyists in Washington are doing in this instance," said Sens. John McCain
(R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in a
Jan. 24 statement. McCain is the chairman of the board of the International Republican Institute (IRI), one of the groups that had their Cairo offices
raided. The other two groups were the National Democratic Institute, whose board is chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Freedom House.
The anger in Washington against the
Egyptian government reached a boiling point when it was revealed Jan. 26 that
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's
son Sam LaHood, the head of IRI's
Cairo office, had been barred
from leaving Egypt by the government along with five other U.S. citizens.
"To have an American lobbyist
lobbying for a government where these activities are taking place -- is there
no shame in this town?" said Rep. Frank Wolf on Thursday.
On Friday, Sam LaHood told NPR that
he and the other Americans trapped in Egypt could face criminal charges,
lengthy trials, and years of prison time.
we are referred to trial," LaHood said. "The trial could last up to a
year ... and the potential penalty is six months to five years in jail."
The lobbying groups
buckled under the public pressure, recognizing that they couldn't influence the
SCAF's actions in this case and that their association with the military
council was harming their broader image. For years, these firms have been
defending the Egyptian military's $1.3 billion annual aid package on Capitol
Hill and lobbying for non-military aid to go through the government, and not directly
to independent organizations as many democracy advocates urged.
that in late 2010, Bob Livingston personally called Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) to get him to kill a Senate resolution calling
for greater respect for human rights and democracy in Egypt. Wicker placed a
hold on the resolution and it died in the Senate.
Egypt's lobbyists were
also responsible for negotiating an endowment the Egyptian government wanted from the Obama
administration. But the Mubarak regime demanded the money
be given with no annual Congressional oversight, and the negotiations broke down.
did place new restrictions on military aid to Egypt in the most recent
passed in December, as a way of pressing the SCAF to move faster toward handing
over its executive powers to an elected government.
to the legislation, Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton must certify that the Egyptian government is living up to the 1979 Egypt-Israel
peace treaty and that the SCAF is supporting the transition to civilian rule.
Multiple congressional aides told The
Cable Friday that the aid is now in serious jeopardy.
"Needless to say, this whole crisis is
going to make it a lot more difficult for the secretary of state to meet the
certification requirements to continue providing assistance to Egypt," one
senior Senate aide told The Cable. "People up here are completely seized with this issue.
They're putting their friends in a really awful spot."
senior Senate aide noted that the Obama administration is doing a lot of work behind
the scenes to deescalate the crisis, which is threatening to do long-term harm
to the official U.S.-Egypt relationship.
Barack Obama brought up the raids in
a call last week with SCAF leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, according to the White House. Clinton,
U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson,
Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns,
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon,
and Lahood have been working the phones hard, calling contacts in Egypt to send
strong messages and implore them to change course. Assistant Secretary of State
for Democracy, Labor, and Human Rights Michael
Posner was in Egypt on Jan. 26 and met with high-level Egyptian officials.
"Since the NGO raids in late December, the Obama
administration has repeatedly provided paths for the SCAF to deescalate this
crisis. Instead they keep escalating -- doubling down on a bad bet that, in the
end, will prove ruinous to them," the Senate aide said. "Three weeks ago no one
in Congress thought there was a chance in hell that aid to the Egyptian
military could ever come under serious threat. It is now an increasingly and
shockingly real prospect."
McCain and Lieberman had been among the U.S. leaders most supportive of the
SCAF and its role in maintaining stability during Egypt's fragile transition.
in Washington believe that the SCAF is being heavily influenced on this issue
by one civilian Egyptian official, Fayza Abul-Naga, the minister of international cooperation and a holdover from the Mubarak
era. In a speech this week, she disavowed the SCAF's previous promises to
return the NGOs' raided possessions and cease harassing them as she lashed out
at the American NGO groups.
Lorne Craner, the president
of IRI, said in an interview Friday with The
Cable that there is bad blood between Abul-Naga's ministry and the NGO
groups. "Some people say that the people who used to get the money, for example
the minister of international cooperation, resent the fact that they are not
getting all of the funding," Craner said.
the Americans and several of their locally hired staffers are enduring
hours-long interviews as they await a possible arrest, which would only
escalate the crisis.
have gone from bad to worse," Craner said. "You start to think about Americans
getting arrested on the streets of Cairo and sitting in a cage in some Cairo
court ... And these are our allies."
UPDATE: On Sunday the Egyptian Embassy in Washington issued a statement claiming they dumped the PLM Group, not the other way around:
Government of Egypt had decided to terminate its contractual
relationship with the PLM Group. This decision was transmitted to the
Group's principals on January 27th 2012 through an official
letter, as the contract stipulates, that either party has the right to
terminate the relation within a 60 days prior notice.
It is surprising that
a distorted version of this fact is being circulated in some media
outlets. It is equally disturbing that articles and media coverage of
the issue were made without an attempt to contact the Egyptian Embassy
to check the factual basis of the stories reported.
This Press Release
attempts to clarify the situation in line with the official documents
related to the matter including the letter of termination which was
recently transmitted by the Embassy to the PLM Group.