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Egypt's spies hire Washington lobbyists to boost image

General Intelligence Service pays $1.8m to clean up its image and improve ties to Trump's administration
Sisi surrounded by bodyguards (AFP)

The Egyptian intelligence services recently hired two US public relations firms to clean up their image and improve their relations to Washington and the Trump administration.

The General Intelligence Service (GIS) - Egypt’s mukhabarat - are paying between $50,000 and $100,000 a month to communications firm Weber Shandwick and lobbying company Cassidy and Associates according to documents filed with the Treasury Department.

The two registration statements were filed on 28 January and they both list GIS director, Major General Khaled Fawzy, as the Egyptian contact point.

The copy of the contract with Weber Shandwick posted on the Treasury Department website

The registrations were released publicly to comply with the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938.

It is not uncommon for lobbying firms in Washington to be hired by foreign countries to help them secure political links in Congress or in the administration. It is rare, however, that an intelligence agency takes lobbyists and communication experts on their payroll to start its own lobbying effort.

The Egyptian mukhabarat are often accused by human rights organisations of torturing civilians and forcing the disappearance of thousands of political opponents in the country. They are also believed to be responsible for the death of Giulio Regeni, the Italian researcher found dead in Cairo last year.

Weber Shandwick has represented Microsoft and has contracts for promoting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Cassidy has represented various healthcare firms and universities, as well as the US aviation and defence companies Boeing and General Dynamics.

The government for Guinea Bissau, which has for years been dogged with claims of corruption, dropped Cassidy as its representative in 2010, stating a poor return on their investment.

According to the contracts filed with the Treasury Department, the lobbying companies will assist the General Intelligence in boosting its image and making useful contacts with the key people in Washington.

They will promote the mukhabarat’s “strategic partnership with the United States, highlighting Egypt’s economic development and its leading role in managing regional risks”.

President Sisi has so far tried to portray himself as a key actor for the stability of the region and as an invaluable ally to solve the Libyan crisis and the flux of migrants towards the Italian shores.

The firms will also showcase key attributes of Egypt’s civil society in exchange for a fee of $1.8m a year.

While relationship between Cairo and the Obama administration were at a low-point, it could not go better between Sisi and Trump. Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump on election night and the American president has called his Egyptian counterpart “a great, great guy”.

The general feeling is that Trump’s administration will close more than an eye on human rights abuses committed by its autocratic allies and Sisi should not fear for the $1.3bn in military aid Egypt receives from the US. 

Moreover, the Egyptian government already spends another $2m a year for the services of another lobbying firm, Glover Park Group.

Other Egyptian government agencies had previously hired lobbyists in Washington to improve trade relations or boost tourism. But according to a tweet by analyst Nasser Wedaddy, there is an intense rivalry between different state actors and the intelligence service is trying to bypass the foreign ministry.

"I’d be interested to see if the lobby focuses on the GIS reputation versus Egypt’s," said Timothy Kaldas, a Cairo-based political scientist affiliated with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

"I find it interesting how so many institutions are working on their personal reputations," he told told BuzzFeed News.

"Food aid is distributed from the Interior Ministry or army or GIS rather than in the name of the Egyptian state. Access to the [Trump] administration could increase its power vis a vis other institutions in the state."

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