Egypt parts ways with top lobbyist days after '60 Minutes' debacle

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Article Summary
Cairo and the Glover Park Group have ended a relationship that began after the 2013 coup.

Egypt cut ties with its top US lobbying firm just days after CBS broadcast a controversial interview with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that Cairo tried to stop from airing.

The Glover Park Group’s $2 million-per-year contract with the Egyptian Embassy in Washington was terminated Jan. 15, according to lobbying filings reviewed by Al-Monitor. The firm first started working for Cairo in 2013 when Egypt’s long-time lobbyists dropped their contracts following the military coup against sitting President Mohammed Morsi.

The reason for the termination remains unclear. A lobbyist for Glover Park declined to comment, citing company policy. The Egyptian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. Glover Park's fees had in the past been covered by the United Arab Emirates, according to private emails from UAE Ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba published by The Intercept in 2017.

The split came just nine days after CBS aired a testy "60 Minutes" interview in which the Egyptian president appeared surprised by tough questions about political prisoners and the 2015 massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo’s Rabia Square. The interview also touched on Cairo’s close military cooperation with Israel, a taboo subject in Egypt.

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“Glover Park was hired to help President Sisi make good on his promise to stabilize Egypt. They produced some glossy brochures that showed that,” said Sarah Margon, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch. Since he took office, she said, “things have gone from very bad to a whole lot worse.”

The contract’s termination is particularly ill-timed as newly empowered House Democrats prepare to take a hard look at US aid to Egypt, including $1.3 billion in annual military assistance. For its part, the Republican-controlled Senate has long sought to condition more aid to Egyptian progress on human rights.

“The whole flavor of the House has changed,” said Allison McManus, research director at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “It was the House that was always the more conservative when it came to maintaining the status quo.”

Instead, Egyptian lawmakers are considering a series of constitutional changes that could extend Sisi’s rule until 2034 or beyond. Human rights and civil society organizations are worried that the country is on a path to continue its post-Arab Spring slide away from democracy.

“I’d love to think that [Glover Park] had a come-to-Jesus moment that this country was having lasting and fundamental changes to the constitution that were cementing authoritarianism,” said McManus.

While the Egyptian Embassy in Washington no longer has any registered foreign agents, Egypt’s Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation retains the services of Hill and Knowlton. Meanwhile, APCO Worldwide and Cassidy and Associates ended their contracts with the country’s General Intelligence Services within days of each other in April 2018, shortly after Sisi won a second term in an election widely seen as undemocratic.

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Found in: Human rights

Jack Detsch is Al-Monitor’s Pentagon correspondent. Based in Washington, Detsch examines US-Middle East relations through the lens of the Defense Department. Detsch previously covered cybersecurity for Passcode, the Christian Science Monitor’s project on security and privacy in the Digital Age. Detsch also served as editorial assistant at The Diplomat Magazine and worked for NPR-affiliated stations in San Francisco. On Twitter: @JackDetsch_ALM, Email: jdetsch@al-monitor.com.

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