WASHINGTON (IPS) - When Major General Mohamed Said Elassar, assistant to Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the Egyptian minister of defence, came to the US capital last April, he was given the equivalent of a red carpet welcome. The delegation of high-ranking Egyptian military officials that he was leading was ushered from one Congressional office to the next, from the Pentagon to the State Department.
His host was Bob Livingston, a former chairman of the appropriations committee in the US House of Representatives. On hand to accompany him to meetings with the military was William Miner, a retired Navy pilot with a master’s degree in Middle East affairs from the Naval Post Graduate School. Cathryn Kingsbury, a former employee of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs, an Arabic speaker who had lived in Egypt, took the delegation to Congress on 29 April.
Kingsbury, Livingston and Miner were lobbyists employed by the government of Egypt, helping them to open doors to senior officers in the US government. Records of their meetings, required under law, were recently published by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington watchdog group.
“Many of the meetings with lawmakers were with lawmakers with seats on powerful committees including the panel in charge of foreign aid spending. Lobbyists contacted six of the fourteen members of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations Appropriations,” wrote Paul Blumenthal, a Sunlight researcher. In addition, Livingston and Miner traveled to Cairo to meet with the US embassy there to discuss “US/Egyptian security issues”.
Indeed Egypt has received over 70 billion dollars in economic and military aid from the US Congress in the past 60 years, according to numbers compiled by the Congressional Research Service.
Specifically, the aid money pays for US-designed Abrams tanks assembled in suburban Cairo under contract with General Dynamics. Boeing sells Egypt CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters, Lockheed Martin sells F-16s fighter jets, Sikorsky Aircraft sells Black Hawk helicopters. Lockheed Martin has taken in 3.8 billion dollars from Egypt in the last few years, General Dynamics 2.5 billion dollars, Boeing 1.7 billion dollars, among many others.
The Livingston Group made the largest number of contacts with the US government for the Egyptians to make sure that this money continued to flow, but they were not the only ones. Tony Podesta, the brother of a former White House chief of staff, and Toby Moffett, a former Democratic Congressman, joined forces with Livingston to create the PLM Group to represent Egypt in Washington, according to foreign-agent records at the Justice Department. Sunlight records show that the joint venture was paid 1.1 million dollars a year.
When contacted by IPS, the Livingston Group lobbyists declined to discuss the exact nature of their support for the Egyptian government, referring enquiries to Karim Haggag, the spokesman for the Egyptian embassy in Washington, who did not return repeated phone calls.
Nor is PLM the only Washington lobbyist for the Egyptian government. Frank Wisner, the former US ambassador that President Barack Obama dispatched to Cairo earlier this week to advise President Hosni Mubarak, is employed by Patton Boggs, a law firm and registered lobbyist. On its website Patton Boggs summarises the contracts that it has won in the last 20 years to advise the Egyptian military, leading “commercial families in Egypt” as well as “manage contractor disputes in military sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act.”
Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt from 1986 to 1991, sits on the board of the Pharaonic American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) in Egypt as well as the American University in Cairo.
The diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks provide a further glimpse into some of the benefits that the diplomatic lobbying has won the Egyptian government, notably the provision of specialized military training paid for by the US government.
Under the “Leahy law” — a human rights requirement named after Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont that prohibits US military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights — US embassies have to vouch for all prospective trainees.
One cable from the US embassy dated 21 October 2009, lists dozens of members of a variety of Egyptian security offices from “Central Security” and “Public Security” to “Civil Defense” and “Police Academy” that have been cleared to take US sponsored anti-terrorism classes abroad. Another cable dated 13 January 2010 that has been made public by Wikileaks offered “Security Sector Central” officers three-week courses in how to handle explosives.
The courtship between Washington and Cairo continues to this day. Even as the Egyptian protestors were facing off against the tear gas grenades being lobbed by security forces in Cairo last week, another delegation of Egyptian senior military officials led by Lieutenant General Sami Hafez Enan, the chief of staff of Egypt’s armed forces, arrived in Washington to meet with Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (No public records have been filed yet so it is unclear if the PLM group was escorting them around again).
The most tangible outcome of this lobbying is the weapons sales and military training authorised by the US Congress and subsidised by the US taxpayer. But the relationship between Cairo and Washington is much deeper and wider.
Another diplomatic memo written on 14 May 2006 released by Wikileaks makes it clear that the US government is working closely with Egyptian spy chief Omar Suleiman on key regional matters such as figuring out how best to marginalise Hamas in Palestine: “[O]ur intelligence collaboration with Omar Soliman, who is expected in Washington next week, is now probably the most successful element of the relationship.”
The diplomatic memo, which was written by Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr. (then US ambassador to Egypt) to brief Robert Zoellick (then Deputy Secretary of State) who was visiting Cairo at the time, notes that “Omar Soliman also told us he would be glad to see you (Zoellick), if schedules permit - he will be working the Israeli and PA delegations in Sharm” - referring to a meeting being held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm-el-Sheikh.
Suleiman was described by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer in her book “The Dark Side” as “the CIA’s point man in Egypt for renditions — the covert program in which the CIA snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.”
This week, Mubarak was lobbied furiously by Frank Wisner and other diplomats in the Obama administration, according to The New York Times, to resign and appoint Suleiman to take over as interim president in Cairo. Enan and Tantawi, the employers of the Washington lobbyists, have been put forward by Washington to lead a process of constitutional reform.
If the protestors do not succeed in ousting this cosy group of diplomats, former members of Congress and high-ranking Egyptian government officials, the game of musical chairs may simply move the players from one seat to the next. Suleiman will replace Mubarak and the military delegations will resume their rounds in Congress, the State department and the Pentagon, accompanied by their Washington lobbyists.
Pratap Chatterjee is a visiting fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC specializing in fraud, waste and abuse in government procurement.
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