Amid fears of US pressures on Cairo to improve human rights conditions after Joe Biden won the presidential elections, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime has hired a lobbying firm.The $65,000 monthly contract was signed between Egypt’s Ambassador to the US, Motaz Zahran, and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Under their agreement, the firm will “provide government relations services and strategic consul on matters before the US government,” reports Foreign Lobby. The embassy negotiations with the American firm began before Biden’s victory was announced, but the agreement was signed after Biden’s victory became a foregone conclusion. In the United States, hiring lobby firms takes at least several weeks, as the firm needs to obtain approval from the US Department of Justice to represent a foreign country.
The pro-Cairo lobby team includes a number of Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Republican congressman Ed Royce, who chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee from 2013-2018. It also includes Lieutenant General Nadim al-Shami, the former senior aide to the leader of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, who spent his early childhood in Egypt.
Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East programme at Carnegie, confirmed that this step clarifies that “they are clearly worried.” She pointed out that “when it became clear that Biden would be named the winner, al-Sisi sent his congratulations and now you see all these former foreign ministers and major figures being called out onto the talk shows to reassure the government supporters in Egypt that everything’s going to be fine with Biden.”
Shortly after Biden was tipped to win, Egypt began releasing political prisoners in what experts said was related to growing calls on the al-Sisi government to abide by human rights and a predicted change in US policy towards Egypt. During Trump’s era, the US administration has refrained from criticism of al-Sisi’s regime about human rights. This encouraged al-Sisi’s regime to increase violations of opponents’ rights significantly.
In his famous sentence, Trump referred to al-Sisi as his “favourite dictator.” Trump’s loss in the elections seemed like a significant loss for ِal-Sisi’s regime, as he made great efforts during his tenure to limit the issuance of congressional sanctions on Cairo for its human rights violations. Washington was forced to issue lenient human rights convictions after the death of American citizen Mustafa Kassem in Egyptian prisons, and Trump also clearly defended the Egyptian position over the Renaissance Dam crisis.
On the contrary, Joe Biden criticised the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Twitter in July following the release of the Egyptian-American Muhammad Amasha, after he was imprisoned for more than a year. Biden said: “Mohamed Amasha is finally at home, after 486 days in an Egyptian prison, for raising a protest banner. The arrest, torture, and exile of activists like Sarah Hegazy and Mohamed Soltan or threatening their families is unacceptable. “No more (blank cheques) for Trump’s favourite dictator.”
In October, 56 US congressmen wrote an open letter to al-Sisi that stated human rights abuses in Egypt would not be tolerated if Joe Biden won the election and that he would not write al-Sisi a blank cheque. Shortly afterward, 222 MEPs called on Egypt to release its political prisoners. This is not the first time Cairo has hired firms to boost its image. In 2017 Egyptian intelligence hired two US public relations firms Weber Shandwick and Cassidy & Associates Inc. in Washington, to lobby on the country’s behalf and improve its image. The companies would assist Egypt in promoting strategic partnership with the US.
In 2019 Egypt hired an undisclosed US PR firm to counter negative press about the country and improve its image abroad in an attempt to whitewash its severe human rights abuses rather than put an end to them. The US sends roughly $1.3 billion worth of annual military aid a year to Egypt though there have been threats that Egypt must abide by human rights to continue to receive the funding. At the beginning of this year, the state Department threatened to slash it following the death of an American citizen (Mustafa Kassem) in jail.