Over the weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s hand-picked envoy to Egypt, former U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner, caused a diplomatic row when he suggested at the Munich Security Conference that embattled Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak “must stay in office in order to steer [democratic] changes through.” Wisner’s comments were quickly rebuked by the Obama administration, which said that he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a diplomatic envoy.
Now, the U.K Independent’s Robert Fisk has discovered a major conflict of interest that may explain why Wisner was so comfortable with suggesting that Mubarak — who has more than a million of protesters calling on him to step down over the past two weeks — should stay in power during a transition period. Fisk has found that Wisner works for Patton Boggs, a New York-DC law firm that includes in its client list none other than the Egyptian government itself. Patton Boggs even took part in litigation against Americans on behalf of the Egyptian government:
Frank Wisner, President Barack Obama’s envoy to Cairo who infuriated the White House this weekend by urging Hosni Mubarak to remain President of Egypt, works for a New York and Washington law firm which works for the dictator’s own Egyptian government. … But there is nothing “personal” about Mr Wisner’s connections with the litigation firm Patton Boggs, which openly boasts that it advises “the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government’s behalf in Europe and the US.”
Patton Boggs states that its attorneys “represent some of the leading Egyptian commercial families and their companies” and “have been involved in oil and gas and telecommunications infrastructure projects on their behalf.” One of its partners served as chairman of the US-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce promoting foreign investment in the Egyptian economy. The company has also managed contractor disputes in military-sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act. Washington gives around $1.3bn (£800m) a year to the Egyptian military.
A perusal of Patton Boggs’s website finds that firm “maintains a correspondent affiliate relationship with one of Egypt’s most prominent firm of lawyers in Cairo, the law firm of Zaki Hashem.” Fisk notes that one of Hashem’s former senior advisors, Nabil al-Araby, has actually been taking part in protests against Mubarak. Al-Araby broke off connections with Hashem three years ago, and told Fisk that he thinks that Mubarak must go immediately and that he has “no idea” why Wisner made comments in support of him staying.
Nicholas Noe, a Beirut-based political researcher who has advised Clinton in the past, told Fisk that he’s concerned about “the idea that the US is now subcontracting or ‘privatising’ crisis management…Do the US lack diplomats?” Indeed, while Wisner has decades of experience working as a U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, he now works in the private sector, and it is a questionable choice to pick someone whose firm has litigated on behalf of the Egyptian government to be the American envoy to that same country.
For more, see Visiting Fellow Pratap Chatterjee’s “Lobbyists Help Egyptian Officials Get Aid, Support From U.S.”
,In an interview with Salon’s Justin Elliott, a spokesman for Patton Boggs says the firm hasn’t worked for the Egyptian government since the 1990’s with the exception of a “small matter” for the Egyptian embassy last year.