The world’s focus has been rightly been focused on the ongoing revolt in Egypt. That has brought some attention to the Egyptian government’s lobbying operation here in Washington. Yesterday I put up a database of contacts made by Egypt’s Washington lobbyists. But how does that compare to the rest of the Arab world’s lobbying?
The Egyptian government’s lobbyists made the third most reported lobbying contacts of all Arab nations during the previous reported period in 2010. Surpassing Egypt’s 366 lobbying contacts were the United Arab Emirates (407 contacts) and Morocco (653 contacts).
Only three other governments of Arab nations or territories reported any lobbying contacts over the same period in 2010. These include Algeria (50 contacts), Saudi Arabia (20 contacts), and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank (19 contacts).
It may come as a surprise to see Morocco lobbying in Washington at such a heavy pace. There is, however, the pressing issue in Morocco’s back yard related to the sovereignty of the Western Sahara. Reporters with both the Sunlight Foundation and ProPublica wrote about the controversy regarding the Western Sahara in 2009:
The Western Sahara  is an inhospitable patch of desert about the size of Colorado on Africa’s Atlantic coast, with a population of about 400,000, a GDP of only $900 million, and an economy based on nomadic herding, fishing and phosphorous mining. It is also one of the last colonies in the world — Morocco  annexed it a few years after Spain granted it independence in 1975 — and the subject of 34 U.N. Security Council resolutions on the territory since 1999.In late 2007 and 2008, the desert region was a top priority for Morocco’s hired lobbyists. At issue was Western Sahara’s autonomy, but the story also shows how, in a foreign lobbying arms race, the side with the biggest arsenal can come out on top.
The government of Morocco sought the support of Congress in this lengthy territorial dispute. The region has long demanded independence. An indigenous insurgent group, the Polisario Front , waged a guerrilla war against the Moroccan military until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991.
Part of the terms of that deal included holding a referendum to determine the territory’s final status, but no vote has been held. In 2007, Morocco issued a proposal to grant Western Sahara autonomy within sovereign Morocco. The U.S. initially welcomed the proposal, and direct talks began between Morocco and the Polisario with the involvement of Algeria, which supports self-determination for the Sahrawi tribes from the area.
This controversy has raged on as Morocco and their lobbyists have claimed that the Polisario Front is aligned with Al Qaeda and that the Western Sahara is becoming a training ground for terrorists. The conflict continues to rage in both the desert of the Sahara and on the streets of Washington.
Morocco’s lobbyists include former congressman Toby Moffett, also a lobbyist for Egypt, and the Morocco-American Center for Policy, a Washington-based operation supporting Moroccan policies. In total, Morocco retained seven lobbying firms that made contacts with government officials in 2010.
The United Arab Emirates should come as no surprise as a big lobbying force in Washington as they have been in the top ten in spending on lobbyists for years. Sunlight’s Anupama Narayanswamy reported on their 2009 activity recently:
From state-owned businesses to political deal making, the seven sovereign nations that form the United Arab Emirates in all spent a total of $5.3 million in 2009 lobbying the U.S. government. The UAE hired D.C.-based lobbyists DLA Piper to work on the “123 agreement” that would give them access to nuclear technology from the U.S. starting in January 2009; a deal was signed in May 2009. In addition to atomic power for its energy sector, the Emirates pushed for this deal in response to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Recent documents released by the whistleblower site Wikileaks, show that the oil-rich country considered this a vital step in strengthening their ties Washington: “According to AbZ, [Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of UAE] the 123 is a powerful example for the region and provides a transparent alternative to Iran’s nuclear model. The UAE views Iran as a huge problem that goes far beyond nuclear capabilities.”
UAE’s lobbying for nuclear technology continued in 2010, but much of the Emirates’ lobbying in Washington involved contacting the Justice Department over an ongoing investigation into price fixing in the air cargo industry. The investigation has netted numerous guilty pleas from airlines across the world including British Airways, Qantas, El Al, Korea Air Lines, Société Air France, Northwest Airlines, China Airlines, Polar Air, Singapore Air Cargo, and Cargolux. UAE’s lobbying was on behalf of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, which has so far not been charged in the American investigation. Dubai Civil Aviation Authority has, however, been charged in Australia in a similar price fixing investigation.
UAE retained lobbying powerhouses Akin, Gump and DLA Piper, along with The Harbour Group.
While only six Arab nations reporting lobbying contacts in 2010 other Arab nations still retained lobbyists, for consulting purposes, and are also allowed to directly contact U.S. government officials through diplomatic means without reporting contacts.