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US law firm drops contract to lobby for Egypt's spy service

Weber Shandwick originally signed the $1.2m deal in January to promote Egypt's 'strategic partnership' with the US
Trump and Sisi in Riyadh (AFP)

An American PR firm has dropped Egypt's spy service as one of its clients after just six months.

Weber Shandwick first signed the $1.2m deal with the General Intelligence Service (GIS) - Egypt’s mukhabarat - in January, with the intention of improving the country's image following an authoritarian crackdown which has seen mass arrests and accusations of human rights abuses.

According to the US Justice Department, the firm would be promoting Egypt’s “strategic partnership with the United States,” and emphasising the country's “leading role in managing regional risks.”

Another aspect of Weber's work was to lobby the US State Department to label the Muslim Brotherhood a "terrorist" organisation, falling in line with the Egyptian government, which has been involved in suppressing the group after overthrowing the Brotherhood-backed democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

However, on Tuesday the company told PRWeek that after reviewing its accounts on behalf of foreign governments, it had "decided to discontinue work with the government of Egypt".

The decision for the company to drop the contract came shortly after the publication of a scathing article in the Atlantic magazine, which criticised the deal with Egypt and warned that Weber Shandwick's efforts "could undermine, rather than bolster, Egypt’s standing in Washington."

"In Weber Shandwick, it would appear that the Sisi regime has found a PR firm willing to apply its considerable messaging prowess to the cause of funneling US taxpayer money and goodwill towards the increasingly brutal leadership of the world's largest Arab country," wrote Avi Ascher-Shapiro.

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In a statement, Cassidy & Associates - a subsidiary of Weber Shandwick who were also hired in January - said it would continue to lobby on behalf of the Egyptian government.

"Egypt is a long-standing ally of the United States and plays a key role in the fight against terrorism," the firm said in a statement.

"Cassidy & Associates looks forward to continuing to represent the government of Egypt and highlight this important relationship with policymakers on Capitol Hill and in the administration."

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 the forced disappearance of thousands of political opponents in the country. Amnesty has said the death of Giulio Regeni, the Italian researcher found dead in Cairo last year, echoes such disappearances. 

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

Cassidy & Associates 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.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate US President Donald Trump on election night in November, 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.

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