Egyptian Intelligence Hires US Public Relations Firms to Boost Regime’s Image

The Egyptian Intelligence Service has hired two U.S. public relations firms in Washington to lobby on the country’s behalf and boost its image, “the first such engagements by the country’s powerful security apparatus to be made public and a rare move by a foreign intelligence body, “said the Associated Press.

The Associated Press reported that filings dated January 8, which was seen on the Department of Justice website, showed that the General Intelligence Service has hired public relations firms Weber Shandwick and Cassidy & Associates Inc.

“The registrations by one of Egypt’s feared, competing intelligence agencies, known as the Mukhabarat, were released publicly to comply with the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938,” according to AP.

According to the contracts, the companies 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 agreements worth $1.8 million annually.

In this context, these are mainly the vital issues that Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s government is keen to portray in a positive light in its interactions with its key ally, the United States, that sends it some $1.3 billion in annual military aid.

Mokhtar Awad, an analyst at George Washington University, said “The Egyptian government believes its relationship with the U.S. has suffered due to bad public relations and not being able to communicate its narrative.”

He added, “They’ve been investing more in this line of effort and it appears to be expanding.”

In other areas, Cairo has a more flexible approach to its image. With European countries, Egypt tend to overstate the number of refugees in the country tenfold in efforts to persuade European countries to send it more development and security aid to prevent illegal immigration across the Mediterranean.

In addition, Cairo also switches between “playing down an extremist insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula and amplifying the danger, depending on which position is most useful at a given moment with domestic or foreign audiences, “said AP.

“Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) registrations are administered and enforced by U.S. counterespionage officials with the Department of Justice, and Egypt’s move appears to be rare for a foreign government as most filings are made by diplomatic missions, trade or business initiatives, political groups or opposition, “as reported by AP.

According to AP, “Egypt’s FARA filings for the lobbying work are two of several previously filed by Egyptian government agencies, although others are listed under ministries or agencies relating to trade, tourism, or business.”

Regarding the latest two, under the heading “Branch or agency represented by the registrant,” the filings denoted Egypt’s “General Intelligence Service.”

The contracts are signed by Maj. Gen. Nasser Fahmy, on the lines marked out for Maj. Gen. Khaled Fawzy, who is the director general of General Intelligence, said AP.

It was also reported that “The Weber Shandwick contract is worth at least $1.2 million annually, to be paid quarterly at $300,000 plus expenses, while the Cassidy & Associates one is for $600,000 per year, to be paid at $150,000 quarterly.”

In fact, this revelation comes to the surface as US 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 human rights abuses.

Egypt’s al-Sisi justified the human rights violations saying that his country faces a substantial terrorist threat and cannot be judged by Western standards, although it insists foreign tourists are safe.

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

Al-Sisi led a military coup in July 2013 ousting President Mohamed Morsi, who had won the Egypt’s first democratically presidential election following the Arab Spring and the overthrow of the longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The military takeover that was led by Sisi, the former chief of Egypt’s armed forces, opened a period of political violence. The army and the security forces killed more than two thousand people, and jailed an estimated 40,000 people, including protesters, students, and journalists.

Sisi became president in 2014 in an election that was widely regarded as “a fait accompli,” said the Times. The government has also banned all unauthorized public gatherings, and labelled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

However, Egypt has been struggling to revive its economy that deteriorated in an unprecedented way under al-Sisi military regime.