Arab Spring: One Year Later


International lobbying is the hidden story to come out of the Arab Spring, which hits a major landmark Saturday, the first anniversary of ex-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation. Lobbying represents a vital puzzle piece in an international structure of power that propped up dictators and oppressed millions of people. The Sunlight Foundation has been tracking these developments using the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, a searchable database of international lobbying records gleaned from the Department of Justice that we've just updated.

The project started in partnership with ProPublica, aiming to make this treasure trove of information accessible to the public and journalists.

The above map provides a summary of recent events in each country and an up-to date summary of lobbying by country. It's a quick way to see the lobbying landscape of Middle Eastern and North African lobbying interests over the last few years. For a text version of the map and links to the 119 sources that contributed to the map, click here.

Lobbying on behalf of foreign interests is regulated under the Foreign Agent Registrant Act (FARA); the reports, maintained by the Justice Department, reveal far more than the generic lobbying registrations filed on Capitol Hill. But the FARA database, while comprehensive, is difficult to use. That's why you might want to try our tracker at

You can search in ways not possible in FARA. Not only can you search by country, client and lobbying firm, you can also you can search by issue area or look up a Congress member to see which foreign lobbyists he or she is meeting.

Because making the data searchable takes time, the current data includes all the supplemental forms up to March, 2011. Information is reported on a rolling basis so the most recent information for each client will very. For more recent filings, check Sunlight Foundation's FARA Tracker or the Justice Department's  FARA database.

Some pointers on using the latter: If you are checking the FARA database to find out about lobbying on behalf of a country, you need to first search by country in a quick search to see what lobbyists have contracts with the country. Keep in mind that this list is not up to date some of the contracts may have ended. Then, run the lobbyists through the document search to look at the raw data. Look at section two, questions seven, eight and nine to confirm the client. Then records for lobbying and PR are listed under sections three and four. Section four will tell you costs and donations. Five is informational materials. There is a supplemental for every six months. When looking for multiple years look at multiple forms. Good luck!

Using all the tools described above, Sunlight has been following the changes since last year's upheavals in lobbying representation in the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt terminated its first PR contract in May of 2011 , three more contracts ended in January of 2012. Tunisia ended its PR campaign in June of 2011. In Libya, the Gaddafi contracts ended, and the transitional powers registered to lobby, but not with the same high-powered lobbyists Libya had before.

International lobbying is a sign of a certain degree of institutional sophistication and stability. It is an investment to hire lobbyists and have a long-term agenda such as, trade agreements or aid packages. Having a lobbyist with the right connections can help an embassy navigate the U.S. political process. Losing these connections will have an impact on these countries, especially when it comes to foreign aid appropriations.

Lobbying and PR

Foreign lobbyists working for Arab nations are finding themselves in a flux. For some, years of steady income have ended: Several nations in political upheaval have terminated their contracts.

The reason Egypt stopped U.S. lobbying is still not confirmed. Acording to Politico, the lobbying shops say they initiated the split, citing  Dec. 29 raids on U.S. and European NGOs. Yet the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has claimed the split was part of a cost cutting measure .

Libya is a great case study in the use of international networks to reinforce power structures. Oil contracts with Libya strengthened the country's dictator, Moammar Gaddafi. While making this was not necessarily a goal of the U.S. companies that lobbied for access to Libyan markets, it had the effect of making the regime stronger.

U.S. business interests lobbied against sanctions and in favor of more U.S.-Libyan trade . According to lobbying disclosure reports, 15 companies and two trade associations listed Libyan issues on their lobbying disclosure forms since President George W. Bush lifted economic sanctions on Libya in 2004. Libya's large oil reserves, the biggest of any African nation, were the main focus of the lobbying efforts in Washington.

Libyan influence was under-reported at the time, with the Monitor Group, a business consulting firm run by Harvard professors, not registering with the Department of Justice. The group had a multimillion-dollar contract with Libya and sought to enhance Libya's profile.

Gaddafi did lobbying of his own . The government hired DC lobby shops Blank Rome, The Livingston Group and White and Case for over $2 million to lobby on their behalf in 2008 and 2009, FARA records show. The Livingston Group also lobbied for The Gaddafi Foundation, a charity and policy prop of the Gaddafi government .

After Gaddafi was swept from power, Transitional National Council of Libya, led by seasoned diplomat and Gaddafi defector, Ali Suleiman Aujali, registered to lobby.

Countries that are deemed by the State Department to be a state sponsor of terror, are not allowed to lobby under the Comprehensive Terrorism Prevention Act of 1995. Libya reinstated lobbying connections after it was taken off the State Sponsor of Terror list.

The ban on state sponsors of terror prevents most Syrian entities from lobbying, though Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad did hire PR firm Brown Lloyd James to handle her glowing spread in Vogue.

Foreign Aid

Foreign aid is a huge issue for lobbyists working for foreign governments. Aside from humanitarian assistance, the U.S. has given direct, military assistance to select nations. Iraq, Israel and Egypt each received hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military assistance. Lobbyists benefited and played a role in perpetuating military aid.

PLM Group, a joint venture of the Podesta Group and the Livingston Group, orchestrated an international military-industrial complex. The United States designated aid dollars to the Egyptian government, which in turn bought pricey items from American contractors, with deals often arranged with the help of U.S. lobbyists–who sometimes represent both the seller and the buyer.

Egypt and Tunisia were both recipients of significant military aid in 2009. Egypt spent 2.1% of its GDP for military uses, according to the World Bank. By comparison, Saudi Arabia reported 11.1% of GDP on the military and the U.S., 4.8% of GDP.

A strong military has become a double-edged sword in the Middle East. On one hand, if the military refuses to fire on civilians, as in Egypt, it can contribute to the success of a revolution. Yet in places like Syria or Iran where the armed forces remain loyal to rulers, they can act as the ultimate oppressors. If the army is divided, as it was in Libya, there is civil war.

Aid from the U.S. comes in many forms. USAID focuses on economic and humanitarian aid but other agencies such as the Department of State, USDA and Department of Defense also contribute aid to other countries.

Aid has the duel role of bringing relief to humanitarian crises and serving as an arm of U.S. foreign policy. For instance, the Camp David Accords promised large amounts of aid to keep Egypt and Israel from war. Supporters of military aid contend that it keeps countries stable and discourages conflict;  others argue military aid can fuel oppression and conflict.

Middle East and North Africa Foreign Aid and Lobbying

Location 2010 lobbying and PR  US aid 2008 in millions Military aid 2008 in millions Population estimate 2010-2011 Per capita net worth-most recent
United Arab Emirates $13,180,826 $1 $0 5,148,664 $49,600
Israel $12,852,167 $2,425 $2,381 7,473,052 $29,800
Iraq $3,550,627 $7,452 $4,369 30,399,572 $3,800
Egypt $3,438,611 $1,492 $1,291 82,079,636 $6,200
Morocco $3,171,465 $696 $5 31,968,361 $4,800
Kuwait $2,338,917 $0 $0 2,595,628 $48,900
Palestine/West Bank +Gaza $1,288,355 $1,039 $0 2,568,555 (West Bank) $2,900
Saudi Arabia $1,226,188 $1 $0 26,131,703 $24,200
Qatar $922,887 $0 $0 848,016 $179,000
Tunisia $315,000 $11 $10 10,629,186 $9,400
Algeria $205,340 $13 $1 34,994,937 $7,300
Jordan $181,289 $4 $0 6,508,271 $5,400
Bahrain $63,675 $5 $5 1,214,705 $40,300
Iran $12,000 $7 $0 77,891,220 $10,600
Libya $2,413 $10 $0 6,597,960 $14,000
Yemen $0 $37 $5 24,133,492 $2,700
Syria $0 $36 $0 22,517,750 $4,800
Oman $0 $23 $6 3,027,959 $25,600
Lebanon $0 $195 $8 4,143,101 $14,400