Saturday, September 11, 2010

Egypt pushes back against Senate resolution


Egypt pushes back against Senate resolution

By Dan Eggen Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; A19

A Senate resolution condemning Egypt's record on human rights and free elections has sparked an aggressive Washington lobbying campaign by the longtime U.S. ally, which argues that the measure could harm the Middle East peace process and its relationship with the United States.

The resolution, under consideration in the Foreign Relations Committee, outlines continuing allegations of abuse by Egyptian security services. It also condemns President Hosni Mubarak for renewing an emergency security law allowing broad arrest powers and indefinite detention of suspects without charges.

"Authorities in Egypt continue to harass, intimidate, arbitrarily detain and engage in violence against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, human rights activists, and bloggers," the resolution says.

It adds that the Obama administration should "make respect for basic human rights and democratic freedoms a priority" in its relations with Egypt.

Egypt, which spent more than $1.5 million on U.S. lobbying efforts last year, has responded with a quiet but persistent effort to derail the resolution, according to legislative aides familiar with the discussions. The Egyptian Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

The debate comes amid fast-moving events in the Middle East, including a planned trip by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Egypt next week as part of the administration's attempt to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Egypt is also planning parliamentary elections this fall and a presidential election next year amid persistent reports that Mubarak, 82, is in failing health.

The developments have prompted increasing calls for reform from human rights groups and some U.S. lawmakers. The administration openly criticized Mubarak's decision this year to extend the emergency security law, which has been renewed repeatedly since 1981.

In a meeting with Mubarak last week, President Obama also took the unusual step of specifically referring to the need for "credible and transparent elections in Egypt," according to an official White House summary of the discussion.

The Senate resolution, authored by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), has garnered particular attention in Cairo because of its prominent list of backers. Co-sponsors include Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), the former GOP presidential nominee; Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic majority whip; Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.); and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Egypt is one of the leading recipients of U.S. foreign aid, receiving about $1.5 billion last year. The country has accelerated its lobbying spending in Washington from $214,000 in 2006 to $1.5 million last year, according to disclosure records filed with the Justice Department.

In 2007, the records show, Egypt enlisted the services of three prominent Washington lobbyists who formed a special partnership called PLM Group: Democratic power broker Tony Podesta; former representative Bob Livingston (R-La.); and former representative Toby Moffett (D-Conn.). The partnership has taken in more than $4 million in fees during that time, according to the Justice records.

Moffett, who is listed as the lead lobbyist, did not respond to a telephone message. "We are aware of the legislation, but we are not releasing anything," Egyptian Embassy spokeswoman Amy Watkins said of the Feingold resolution.

In a statement earlier this year, Feingold said that the coming period in Egypt "could be one of transition, possibly one of tumult," and that the United States should take advantage of the opening to push for greater reforms.

"Continuing to provide uncritical support to an authoritarian regime undermines our credibility as champions of political and civil rights and creates tensions, particularly in the Muslim world, which are ripe for exploitation," Feingold said. "Those tensions, in turn, threaten our own national security."

Even so, the resolution doesn't go as far as previous legislation enacting specific punishments for Egypt's behavior. In 2007, for example, Congress approved legislation to withhold $100 million in annual aid to the country; then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got around the penalty by invoking a waiver.

Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin, said the resolution's prospects are unclear.

A new generation at Pepsi

One of Washington's veteran industry representatives is retiring: Galen J. Reser is stepping down after 19 years handling PepsiCo's lobbying efforts.

"Over the years, Galen became one of the respected voices on behalf of the food and beverage industry in Washington, D.C.," said PepsiCo executive Dan Bryant, a former Justice Department official.

Reser is being replaced by Elizabeth Avery, who has been with PepsiCo since 2004 and previously worked for ConAgra Foods and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

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