Egypt Hires Washington Lobbyist

CAIRO (AP) -- Egyptian intelligence has hired a U.S. public relations firm to lobby on the country's behalf in Washington and boost its image, the first such engagement by part of the country's powerful security apparatus to be made public.

A filing dated Jan. 28 and seen by The Associated Press on the Department of Justice website Sunday showed that Egypt hired public relations firm Weber Shandwick and released details of the registration to comply with the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938.

The contract shows that Weber Shandwick will assist Egypt in promoting its "strategic partnership with the United States," highlighting its economic development, showcasing its civil society and publicizing Egypt's "leading role in managing regional risks" in an agreement worth $1.2 million annually.

All points are issues President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government is keen to portray in a positive light in its interactions with foreign powers, especially a key ally such as the United States that sends some $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

In other areas, Cairo has a more flexible approach to its image, for example overstating the number of refugees in the country tenfold in efforts to convince Europeans to send it more development aid to prevent illegal immigration. It also switches between downplaying an extremist insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula, or amplifying the danger, depending on which position is most useful at a given moment with domestic or foreign audiences.

The move comes as the new administration of President Donald Trump is softening America's approach to authoritarian governments including Egypt's, which the State Department last week cataloged in its annual report on its human rights abuses. Egypt says it faces the threat of terrorism and cannot be judged by Western standards.

"The most significant human rights problems were excessive use of force by security forces, deficiencies in due process, and the suppression of civil liberties," State said in its report, adding that abuses included "disappearances" as well as "unlawful killings and torture."

Egypt has yet to recover economically from its 2011 Arab Spring uprising that overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, followed by the army's ouster of his freely elected successor, the divisive Islamist Mohammed Morsi, and it depends on foreign loans and assistance. Last week, Mubarak was effectively acquitted on charges of killing protesters, and could now be released from the informal house arrest he has lived under in recent years.

Since Morsi's 2013 overthrow, el-Sissi's government has waged a heavy crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people, mostly Islamists but also scores of secular and liberal activists, including some of those who led the 2011 uprising. The government has also banned all unauthorized demonstrations.

Egypt's FARA filing for the lobbying work is one of several previously filed by Egyptian government agencies, although others are listed under government ministries or agencies relating to trade, tourism, or business. For the latest one, under the heading "Branch or agency represented by the registrant," the filing denotes Egypt's "General Intelligence Service." The contract is signed by Maj. Gen. Nasser Fahmy for Maj. Gen. Khaled Fawzy, who is GIS director general.

(KA)