The Atlantic reports: On a Tuesday night in early May, all the big players in the public relations industry gathered at Cipriani 42nd Street, a lavish restaurant in Manhattan, for the annual “Superior Achievement in Branding Reputation & Engagement” awards. The event, where winners were selected by a panel of industry insiders, was billed by its organizers as a “showcase for the best that public relations has to offer”—it was like the Oscars, but for the titans of PR. #CupFusion, a hashtag designed to build buzz around a new Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, won a best in show award for Ketchum. Edelman took home a trophy for a Starbucks video campaign focusing on “normal” people doing “extraordinary” things.
The New York-based Weber Shandwick was also a big winner, taking home three trophies: one for North American agency of the year, another for a social-media campaign celebrating a body-positive Barbie Doll, and one more for a science-education program sponsored by Lockheed Martin. One of its campaigns, however, did not attract much notice: a $1.2 million-a-year deal with Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS). The agency, roughly the country’s equivalent of the CIA, is part of a constellation of infamous intelligence services known as the mukhabarat. Perhaps most notorious in the United States for collaborating with the CIA in the torture of suspected al-Qaeda members after 9/11, GIS has been accused of working in secret with Egypt’s domestic intelligence to manipulate elections and suppress internal dissent since the coup that installed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president in 2013.
Weber’s contract with the Egyptians is not, in itself, unconventional. But the firm’s decision to do business with a foreign-intelligence service known for torture and repression, one that has been instrumental to Sisi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, is unorthodox. And it comes at a key moment. Four years after Sisi toppled Egypt’s elected government, he’s eager to cement ties with a new U.S. administration that’s willing to overlook his authoritarianism, and at the same time win friends in Congress who oversee Egypt’s massive aid package. In Weber Shandwick, it would appear that the Sisi regime has found a PR firm willing to apply its considerable messaging prowess to the cause of funneling U.S. taxpayer money and goodwill towards the increasingly brutal leadership of the world’s largest Arab country.
Weber and the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates—a “specialty” firm that’s part of Weber (both are owned by InterPublic Group, a public company)—signed deals with Egypt in late January, eight days after Donald Trump’s inauguration. According to paperwork filed with the Department of Justice, the firms would be reporting directly to General Naser Fahmy of the GIS. They would be promoting Egypt’s “strategic partnership with the United States,” and emphasizing its “leading role in managing regional risks.” The firm, in other words, would be amplifying the Egyptian government’s own message: that arming and backing up an increasingly authoritarian Egypt state is necessary to keep the peace. [Continue reading…]