As Egyptian protests continue to rage and thousands of people in that country continue to demand democratic reforms, many commentators are rightly calling upon the international community to show solidarity with the demonstrators and join them in battling the Mubarak regime.
However, there is at least one powerful, multinational entity that has continually stood by Mubarak and the Egyptian elite and has continually fought efforts to democratize the country. As ThinkProgress previously reported, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce maintains a network of foreign affiliates known as Amchams, “which are foreign chambers of the Chamber composed of American and foreign companies.” In Egypt, this foreign affiliate is known as the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, known in short as AmCham Egypt.
AmCham Egypt’s relation to the Mubarak dictatorship stretches back decades. In fact, the Egyptian dictator even personally intervened to create the organization. In 1981, Mubarak issued an order to allow for the creation of the AmCham by giving it an exemption from Egypt’s strict NGO laws — which help limit the influence human rights and democracy promotion organizations. Since then, the chamber has grown to have hundreds of members. While roughly 75 percent of the organization’s members are Egyptian businesses, many of them are also large Western multinational corporations, like Coca Cola and BP. The Chamber’s member companies account for nearly 20 percent of Egypt’s GDP.
When a powerful corporate-backed entity like the AmCham Egypt gains favorable treatment, it is natural for it to try to protect its patron. So last year, when a group of U.S. Senators — lead by Russ Feingold (D-WI) — introduced legislation that called on the government of Egypt to end crackdowns on pro-democracy activists and hold free and fair elections, AmCham Egypt, at the behest of the Egyptian dictatorship, sprung into action.
As Al Masra Al Youm, a major Egyptian paper, reports, the Mubarak regime tapped AmCham Egypt President Shafik Gabr to do its bidding. Gabr was “dispatched expressly” for the purpose of scuttling the bill:
American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Egypt President Shafik Gabr arrived in Washington on Wednesday to meet with members of US Congress in an effort to persuade them to refrain from issuing a resolution demanding that Egypt “hold fair elections, allow international monitoring of elections, and respect democracy and human rights.”
Informed sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Gabr, who is also a leading member of the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak, had been dispatched expressly for this purpose by the Egyptian government.
By asking a non-American who technically worked for a nongovernmental organization to do their advocacy for them, the Mubarak regime successfully skirted numerous laws dealing with lobbying disclosure, making it easier to hide its role. But thanks to the intervention of AmCham Egypt as well as a multi-million dollar official lobbying campaign by Mubarak, the bill died a quiet death as it wasn’t brought to the floor before the Senate’s recess.
And stunningly, just days before massive protests erupted all over Egypt demanding democracy — protests which were widely expected given events in neighboring Tunisia and the upcoming anniversary of a police massacre at the hands of British colonizers — AmCham Egypt hosted former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who blamed the media for its “sensational coverage” of the Tunisian revolution and said it was in American interests to “continue to support ‘our friends’ in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan and Gulf countries.” “Chaos is in no one’s interest,” he concluded, disparaging the protests:
Negroponte said it will be crucial for US interests to continue to support “our friends” in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan and Gulf countries. […]
During a brief question-and-answer session at the conclusion of his address, Negroponte said he was surprised by the unrest in Tunisia that ended the 23-year presidency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He said that what happened in Tunisia is “not necessarily transferable” to other countries. He blamed the news media for sensational coverage of self-immolation protests in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania, and urged “a little bit of patience.” “Let’s hope the country doesn’t descend into chaos,” he said. “Chaos is in no one’s interest.”
While backing dictatorships is nothing new for Negroponte, it should be noted that he has financial interests at stake in Egypt as well. He is on the board of Agility DGS, a defense company that has major operations in Egypt.
In 2006, AmCham Egypt, in a particularly outlandish move, put out a statement in its Business Monthly that bragged that President Mubarak “became Egypt’s first president to be directly elected in a multiparty contest” in 2005 — a reference to an election where almost all the independent opposition was banned and Mubarak won 88 percent of the vote. For years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been using its massive amounts of corporate money to distort American democracy. Let the record show that its foreign affiliates appear to be dead set on doing much worse in foreign countries, even if it means backing a brutal dictator like Mubarak.