Nadeam Elshami, former Chief of Staff for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), is a lobbyist for the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck (BHFS), where he works as a foreign agent representing the interests of the Egyptian government. The Egyptian government is led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power through a military coup in 2013. The government and its lobbyists continue to press the United States for billions of dollars of military and economic assistance, despite the country's widespread and systematic human rights abuses, as documented by the State Department in its annual country report on human rights The Egyptian government first hired BHFS to represent it in November 2020, and it has paid the firm a monthly fee of $65,000.
The Egyptian Government's Gross and Systematic Violations of Human Rights
Since the overthrow of Egypt's democratically elected government in 2013, the country has been engulfed in a human rights crisis without parallel in modern Egyptian history. The government is responsible for the world's second-largest mass killing of protesters, massacring approximately 1,150 Egyptians in Rabaa and Al-Nahdha Squares in August 2013. Egypt's military-controlled government has detained tens of thousands of Egyptians deemed too critical of the government because of their political affiliation or for simply engaging in independent writing and speech. It has carried out numerous extrajudicial executions and torture of detainees, particularly in the Sinai, where it has engaged in armed conflict against armed groups there for nearly ten years, demolishing thousands of homes and acres of farmland. Without any semblance of due process, the government has employed enforced disappearances and endlessly renewed "pretrial detentions," which in many cases have lasted for more than five years, of thousands of detainees. The judiciary lacks independence, issuing lengthy prison sentences and even mass death sentences with little review in highly politicized trials. Inhumane prison conditions have led to scores of detainee deaths. The government has shuttered hundreds of civil society groups and news publications; jailed journalists, human rights investigators, writers, artists, and actors; and passed draconian "cybercrime" and "counter-terrorism" laws with stiff sentences for protest, assembly, and speech. The military has moved in to exert control over nearly all civilian government and many economic functions.
Nonetheless, the Egyptian government is one of the biggest recipients of foreign military assistance from the United States, receiving an average of $1.3 billion yearly since 1987, primarily in the form of American-made weapons. Over the past two decades, members of the U.S. Congress have sought to limit or condition that aid, especially in recent years, given the Egyptian government's unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression and civil and political rights. Rather than ending or at least mitigating these abuses, the Egyptian government is throwing money into a lobbying effort to ensure that it continues to receive U.S. aid, despite failing to meet minimum human rights standards set forth by Congress and U.S. law for receiving this assistance.
DC Lobbying Firm BHFS Promotes Abusive Egyptian Government's Interests
Just days after Joe Biden was projected to win the 2020 U.S. election, BHFS finalized a deal with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt earning the firm $65,000 a month. In the contract, BHFS agrees to "provide government relations services and strategic counsel [for Egypt]" on matters before the U.S. government, as documented in U.S. Department of Justice filings.
Such statements contradict the US State Department's reports about Egypt's shameful human rights record, including ongoing crimes such as arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings. Echoed by international human rights organizations, the reports also document Egypt's torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and confirm that political detainees lack fair trials.
A fundamental objective of the Egyptian government is to maintain its supply of U.S. military assistance, especially weapons and weapon systems, and political protection and support from the U.S. government. Since 2012, Congress has conditioned a small portion of military funding to Egypt on a certification by the U.S. Secretary of State that the Egyptian government is taking steps to strengthen democracy and improve human rights. However, the State Department routinely bypasses these restrictions as Egypt fails to meet the minimum requirements for improving human rights. Aside from the 2014 fiscal year, which followed the Rabaa and Al-Nahdha massacres, Congress has included a national security waiver within the appropriating legislation every year since 2012. This waiver permits the executive to release the funds if the Secretary of State deems it in the interest of U.S. national security, which has happened in every instance except for 2021. Even then the State Department withheld only $130 million of $300 million conditioned on improved human rights, while the remaining $1 billion was approved without any restrictions.
BHFS Lobbyist Elshami Uses Political Connections to help the Egyptian Government
According to a FARA Supplemental Statement filed on March 30, 2021, Elshami has met numerous times with members of Congress and Congressional staff to discuss the legislation that appropriates and authorizes military aid for Egypt. On November 20, 2020, Elshami contacted a staff member of the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the National Defense Authorization Act, the legislation that authorizes, among other things, military aid to the Egyptian government and includes the human rights conditions for its disbursement. On December 18, 2020, Elshami contacted an appropriations clerk to discuss a parallel piece of legislation, the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, which is responsible for another step in the funding process of appropriating U.S. taxpayer money for military aid to the Egyptian government. There is no evidence to suggest that Elshami or BHFS included accurate and complete information about Egypt's widespread and systematic human rights abuses in these meetings or any other communications about Egypt's receipt of military funding from the U.S., including portions conditioned on the country's problematic human rights record. The omission of such information could be misleading and detrimental to elected officials involved in policy decisions regarding military assistance to Egypt.
Elshami draws on decades of access to the highest levels of Congress to now pursue the interests of one of the world's most abusive governments. Before joining BHFS as Policy Director in 2018, Elshami served as Chief of Staff to House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Extolled by parties on both sides of the aisle for his political prowess, Elshami enjoyed good working relationships with Democrats and Republicans, as demonstrated in back-to-back floor speeches by Pelosi and former House Speaker Paul Ryan upon Elshami's retirement from Congress. Elshami's career as a congressional staffer spanned 25 years. Before serving as Chief of Staff to Pelosi, he worked as her Communications Director and Senior Advisor. Elshami also served as Senior Communications Advisor to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Deputy Press Secretary to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
In the private sector, Elshami previously was Executive Vice President at Signal Group, a public affairs firm based in Washington, DC. He currency teaches a legislative training course through the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University. Elshami is a board member of the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAIR Coalition), a nonprofit group that provides legal representation to children and adults in U.S. immigration proceedings.
DAWN calls on Elshami and BHFS to drop their contract with the Egyptian government, to conduct a thorough review of all their clients, and to cease representation of abusive clients such as Egypt. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, businesses such as BHFS have a responsibility "to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities" as well as "to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts." Lobbying on behalf of governments, agencies, officials, or companies responsible for serious human rights abuses, while misrepresenting or omitting information about their abuses of international human rights law or violations of international humanitarian law, or obtaining, sustaining, or expanding military, political, or economic support for them, effectively contributes to, and benefits from, such abuses. Elshami and BHFS are contributing to and benefiting from the Egyptian government's abuses, supporting arms transfers and continued political support for its dictatorial leadership.
For additional information, see DAWN's detailed recommendations to Congress, lobbyists, and U.S. State Bar Associations on our Lobbyist Hall of Shame.