Mubarak’s out, but his lobbyists remain

The Arab Spring swept away Hosni Mubarak, but not his lobbyists in Washington.

One year after protests first rocked Tahrir Square in Egypt and set in motion the ouster of Mubarak’s regime, a high-powered trio of firms that worked for the former president continue to represent the Egyptian government in the United States. 

Political turmoil in Egypt has not died down, leaving K Street plenty to do since the revolution.

Under the auspices of the PLM Group, the Livingston Group, the Moffett Group and the Podesta Group earned at least $462,000 in lobbying fees representing Egypt last year, according to Justice Department records filed so far.

Former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) said the Washington team is helping Egypt transition toward democracy.

“We are a group that straddles pre-revolution, during the revolution and post-revolution,” Moffett told The Hill. “We have become a part of them, constructing the new Egypt. Nobody could foresee this happening.”

But the lobbyists for Egypt weren’t always promoting revolution. 

In an email sent to lawmakers in November 2010, former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), founding partner of the Livingston Group, took issue with a congressional resolution to promote democracy, human rights and civil liberties in Egypt.

In the email on file with Justice, Livingston said the resolution, sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), had “a great theme … in favor of human rights.”

“But the Muslim Brotherhood is out there, and any statement of criticism by the U.S. is used against the government,” Livingston wrote. “Remember what happened in Palestine. We urged support for human rights and free elections, and Hamas was duly elected.

“We can’t afford a repeat in Egypt. Resolutions like this don’t make sense, and we ought not adopt simplistic slogans … when we have no idea what the consequences can be.”

Livingston’s prediction proved prophetic, as the Muslim Brotherhood won control of Egypt’s parliament in the first elections since Mubarak’s ouster.

Moffett said opposing the resolution might have been the wrong move, though he stressed that the lobbyists pushed Egypt to accept international observers for the country’s 2010 parliamentary elections.

“In hindsight, maybe it was the wrong position. I don’t know,” Moffett said. “I do know it was [the lobbying team’s] consistent position to have outside observers for those elections, or otherwise they would be seen as sham elections. We lost that battle.”

Those elections were later roundly criticized and helped lead to Mubarak’s ouster from power. 

The lobbyists have since transitioned into supporting the new government and worked to lessen the country’s debt burden. In a memo time-stamped for April of last year and titled “Why Egypt’s Debt Should Be Forgiven,” lobbyists at Livingston argued that Egypt is “the political linchpin of the Arab world” and said it is in America’s interest to see Egypt “emerge from its current situation democratically and economically stronger.”

Another memo from the firm estimated that Egypt owes about $3.3 billion in loans to the United States.

Along with debt forgiveness, the lobbyists have had to deal with new criticism of Egypt from Congress.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) is gathering lawmakers’ signatures for two letters — one to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the other to Egyptian Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who’s in charge of the country’s military — that threaten U.S. foreign aid to the country in light of recent government raids of civil-society groups there.

Among those raided were the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), groups closely linked to the U.S. government that support democracy-building overseas.

“The ramifications of this are tremendous,” Wolf told The Hill. “I think if the Egyptians get away with this, I think many countries will try to do the same. At a minimum, you have to suspend it.”

Tony Podesta, chairman of the Podesta Group, said the PLM Group serves as an important channel of communication between the United States and Egypt amid the tensions.

“There has been a number of difficult conversations in recent weeks. But I think that it’s important that people in Cairo are kept in the loop,” Podesta said. “I think people in Washington had a very strong reaction to the actions of the Egyptian government in regard to NDI and IRI.”

Wolf said he expects to release the letters next week. The congressman also said there should be “a high-level delegation of former military and former State Department people who know the Egyptian military to go over there to give them an unvarnished opinion.”

Moffett said action is being taken by Egypt to remedy the situation.

“We hope that whatever was taken, whatever was violated will be returned and they will be made whole,” Moffett said. “With regard to Congressman Wolf, I’m hopeful that letter will be severely outdated very soon. We all hope that.” 

Despite the political turmoil, businesses have begun to eye Egypt as a valuable market.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Chrysler, which has a facility in the country, have begun lobbying for a trade deal with Egypt, according to lobbying disclosure records. Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO, said in his State of American Business speech earlier this month that Egypt should be under consideration for a trade deal with the United States.

Last week, the Chamber hosted Mahmoud Al-Said Eisa, the Egyptian minister of industry and foreign trade. At the event, Chamber officials handed out a Center for Strategic & International Studies report stating that a trade deal could help U.S.-Egyptian relations.

Al-Said Eisa, however, said his country is not asking for a trade agreement just yet.

“We are not asking for this, but we are not objecting if the United States asks to open this. But any agreement should be purely economic … It should not be conditioned by things out of the economy, political or social or anything,” Al-Said Eisa said.

“No change in policies, no change in anything other than to keep all things the same.” 

More change, however, seems likely in the future for Egypt as its new parliament gets to work this year.

“This has been an amazing ride, because we are seeing the internal machinations of a democracy coming to be,” Moffett said. “It’s an interesting thing to be in the middle of.” 

Julian Pecquet contributed to this report.