Leaked emails belonging to the United Arab Emirates Ambassador in Washington DC, Youssef al-Otaiba, reveal that the UAE picked up Egypt’s bill for a US-based public relations company hired between 2013 and 2015, The Intercept reported on Wednesday.
The UAE paid an outstanding bill to Glover Park Group (GPG) concerning Egypt’s case in 2015, which included a campaign run for the Egyptian Embassy in Washington DC, costing $2.25 million, and another campaign for the Egyptian presidency costing $485,000, according to an email addressed to Otaiba in July of that year by Richard Mintz, from the Washington-based PR firm Harbour Group, a known lobbyist for the UAE.
In December 2015, the UAE transferred a sum of $2.7 million to Cairo to cover this cost, in fear of breaking the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) regulations that stipulate payments must be made by the contracting party, shown in an email sent by Otaiba to GPG’s Managing Director Joel Johnson, who co-founded the Harbour Group in 2001 and worked there before joining GPG in 2005. Later, Johnson confirmed that his company had received $3 million from Cairo.
Various Egyptian governmental agencies had reached agreements with several public relations companies in the United States following the 2013 ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi and the rise of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power.
GPG was one of those companies, signing a contract with the Egyptian government in October 2013. At the time, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that the objective was to develop the available tools for the government to facilitate communication with several decision-makers in the United States.
“The Egyptian Government was required to specify the content of the message meant to reach the American administration or the Congress or think tanks or the media, as well as specify the means of sending that message, in accordance of the Egyptian national interests,” reported the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper. The Foreign Ministry asserted the government was not incurring any expenses in the detail without clarifying how it would be paid for.
But UAE support was not limited to financial aspects — the leaks showed that Otaiba was “acting as a sort of de facto second ambassador for the country,” adding that he defended Sisi among journalists and think tanks. Most recently, when US-based political newspaper Politico’s Michael Crowley criticised Sisi for his brutal crackdown on human rights in an article in April 2017, Otaiba wrote him an email accusing him of having “something against Sisi.”
Otaiba had also attempted to lobby for Sisi with Reagan and Bush administration alumnus Elliott Abrams, now a senior fellow at the US-based think tank Council on Foreign Relations, when Abrams testified about Egypt at a Capitol Hill hearing in April. The day before his testimony, Otaiba told him that “the Trump approach with Sisi is working.” In July 2016, Otaiba emailed Abrams again, saying that US ally Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes “Sisi look like a teddy bear.”
Several media reports had revealed massive diplomatic and financial assistance from the UAE for Sisi’s government in the past few years. In July, an article published in the French magazine Télérama revealed that the UAE transferred a surveillance system worth Euro 10 million to Egypt, which the country had purchased from the French company Amesys in March 2014.