Lobbyists For Egypt Forced to Adjust to Sudden Change

The dramatic events in Egypt this past week have left a coterie of top Washington lobbyists quietly scurrying to respond to the unexpected developments in the nation they represent, caught off guard by the apparent end to President Hosni Mubarak's long reign.

By some estimates, Egypt spends close to $2 million a year on well-connected emissaries in Washington. The political insiders they hire are formally registered with the U.S. Justice Department as "foreign agents" and they represent a little-known but lucrative niche in the world of Washington lobbying.

Those who have held big-dollar contracts with the Egyptian government include Democratic power broker Tony Podesta and former House Majority Leader Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican.

Toby Moffett, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut who was hired in 2007 by the Egyptian foreign and defense ministries, described to ABC News Tuesday how his firm's routine work on behalf of Mubarak's foreign and defense ministers took a sudden and unexpected turn.

 "Tunisia got on the radar screen. There had been discussion about possible spill over. But no real sense of urgency," Moffett said. "A week ago, he said, "we were still focusing on getting ready to approach the new Congress with the [Egyptian] ambassador."

Over the course of the week, Moffett and the other Egyptian advisers have found themselves trying to insure some semblance of continuity as the longstanding Egyptian government faces an unrelenting challenge from protesters.

The busiest group on behalf of Egypt, has been PLM, a hybrid of the Livingston Group and the firms run by Podesta and Moffett. Livingston led an Egyptian military delegation to 147 meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress or their staff, according to data compiled by The SunLight Foundation.

According to Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, 1,783 contacts were made between various lobbying firms representing the Arab Republic of Egypt and U.S. government officials since 2007.

'It's A Dicey Situation'

Egypt also has the help of the Washington, D.C., public relations firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates, which handles media strategy for the country. A member of the firm who works on the Egypt account declined to comment Tuesday, but sent a statement that indicates the firm is continuing to try to shape American perceptions of Egypt.

"Our role has been to help communicate to U.S. audiences Egypt's strategic importance in the Middle East, its longstanding alliance with the United States and the many economic reforms it has undertaken," the statement says.

Several Washington lobbyists who have experience working with foreign governments in crisis said such situations can be intensely challenging.

"When you're representing a government that goes radio silent or crumbles under your feet, it's a very dicey situation," said one D.C. public relations expert who was retained by a foreign government in the midst of a coup. "You've got to make sure what you're doing isn't at cross purposes with American policy, and if it is, you better figure out how to get out."

Moffett told ABC News that he has always operated "on the assumption that we are trying to bring value to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship around the edges."

"In other words," he said, "this is mostly about the Egyptians making the decisions and doing the talking with American officials. We are pretty much in the background, providing advice when needed."

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But the former congressman was clear that, while he does not expect that relationship to change, he is prepared to reassess if the dynamics between Egypt and the United States shift in dramatic and unexpected ways.

"If a government was not friendly to the United States, then we wouldn't be working with the guys," he said. "Some consultants do that. We don't."

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