What on earth will lobbyists do who love Arab dictators?

Rest assured, dictators will always need Western whores to soften their brutality in political, media and corporate circles:

For years, they have been one of the most formidable lobbying forces in town: the elite band of former members of Congress, former diplomats and power brokers who have helped Middle Eastern nations navigate diplomatic waters here on delicate issues like arms deals, terrorism, oil and trade restrictions.

Just last year, three of the biggest names in the lobbying club — Tony Podesta, Robert L. Livingston and Toby Moffett — pulled off a coup for one of their clients, Egypt. They met with dozens of lawmakers and helped stall a Senate bill that called on Egypt to curtail human rights abuses. Ultimately, those abuses helped bring the government down.

Mr. Moffett, a former congressman from Connecticut, told his old colleagues that the bill “would be viewed as an insult” by an important ally. “We were just saying to them, ”˜Don’t do this now to our friends in Egypt,’… ” he recounted.

Now the Washington lobbyists for Arab nations find themselves in a precarious spot, as they try to stay a step ahead of the fast-changing events without being seen as aiding despots and dictators. In Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and other countries in the region, leaders have relied increasingly on Washington’s top lobbyists and lawyers, paying them tens of millions of dollars. Some consultants are tacking toward a more progressive stance in light of pro-democracy protests, while others are dropping their clients altogether because of the tumult.

In Tunisia, where the earliest revolts energized the regional upheaval in January, the Washington Media Group, a public relations and communications firm, ended its $420,000 image-building contract with Tunis on Jan. 6, soon after reports emerged of violent government crackdowns on demonstrators.

“We basically decided on principle that we couldn’t work for a country that was using snipers on rooftops to pick off its citizens,” said Gregory L. Vistica, the firm’s president, who first announced the decision on Facebook.

Others have stayed the course, at least for now. Mr. Moffett, Mr. Livingston and Mr. Podesta, who have a joint, multimillion-dollar contract with Egypt, have stepped up the pace of their meetings and phone conferences with Egyptian Embassy officials after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. One of the chief aims, the lobbyists say, is to help the military officials now running the country move toward elections that will be regarded as free and fair outside Egypt.

“What we have done for them in the past is what we will continue to do for them in the future — everything in our power to build good relations between the Egypt of today and the United States,” said Mr. Livingston, a former Louisiana congressman who is one of Egypt’s lobbyists.

At the same time, Mr. Livingston acknowledged that he was closely watching the situation in the region. “Is there a danger that the whole area might become Islamist and radical and totally opposed to the interests of the United States?” he asked. “Certainly there’s that risk.”

As demonstrations were taking place in Egypt last month, Mr. Moffett said a friend suggested to him that his lobbying work for the Mubarak government put him “on the wrong side of the Egyptian thing.”

Mr. Moffett demurred. “I don’t feel that way at all,” he said. “We feel honored to be on the scene while all this is happening.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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