December 15, 2017 at 9:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Pro-LGBT PR firm promotes Egyptian government

APCO Worldwide, a pro-LGBT public relations firm that is based in D.C., in July signed a $1.2 million contract with the Egyptian intelligence agency. The country’s government in recent months has faced increased criticism over its anti-LGBT crackdown.

A D.C.-based public relations firm that supports LGBT rights is promoting the Egyptian government in the U.S.

Avi Asher-Schapiro of the Intercept — a website that Glenn Greenwald edits — on Dec. 6 reported APCO Worldwide in July signed a $1.2 million contract with Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate — the country’s intelligence agency that is known as the Mukhabarat — to “promote the Egyptian government’s interests in D.C.”

The Intercept reported APCO “quickly assembled an intercontinental 12-person team” in the U.S., Europe and Israel “to work on behalf of the Egyptian government.”

APCO reportedly reached out to the Associated Press, CNN and other media outlets “to push positive stories” about Egypt. The Intercept reported APCO “contacted” the Wall Street Journal in October to “emphasize” the country’s “shared values with the United States.”

Anti-LGBT crackdown sparks worldwide outrage

Authorities in September arrested at least seven people who waived a rainbow flag during a Cairo concert that featured Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese rock band with an openly gay lead singer who publicly advocates for LGBT rights.

Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign have both said dozens of LGBT Egyptians have been arrested in recent months, with many of them undergoing so-called anal tests to determine whether they engaged in same-sex sexual activity. Egyptian lawmakers in October introduced a bill that would criminalize the country’s LGBT community.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are among those who have publicly called upon the Egyptian government to end its crackdown. The Intercept reported APCO ignored it “and instead wrote and distributed flattering pamphlets praising the Egyptian government, reached out to influential American think tanks on Egypt’s behalf, tried to persuade American news outlets to write upbeat items about Egypt’s trajectory and circulated positive news articles about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi — whose public prosecutor, Nabil Sadek, spearheaded the attacks on gay Egyptians.”

The Egyptian government has previously hired PR firms to improve its image in the U.S.

The Associated Press in January reported the country’s General Intelligence Directorate signed contracts with Weber Shandwick and Cassidy and Associates worth $1.8 million a year.

APCO took over Weber Shandwick’s contract that it ended. Cassidy and Associates continues to work with Egyptian government.

Firm has ‘been a strong defender’ of LGBT rights

The Intercept reported APCO in June celebrated Pride month by creating a video and hashtag campaign that acknowledged its LGBT employees. APCO Global Creative Director Howard Pulchin also wrote an essay the firm posted on its website.

The Intercept notes APCO in 2014 was a corporate sponsor of Live Out Loud, a New York-based group that advocates on behalf of LGBT youth.

An APCO spokesperson on Wednesday told the Washington Blade the firm “has supported, sponsored and worked with a number of LGBTQ and human rights organizations over our history and will proudly continue to do so into the future.” The spokesperson in their statement did not specifically identity the LGBT organizations with which APCO has worked.

APCO Executive Chairman Margery Kraus, who founded the firm in 1984, on Monday reiterated the spokesperson’s statement.

“APCO, since its inception, has been a strong defender of the rights of the LGBTQ community and continues to strongly support our LGBTQ staff worldwide,” she said in a statement that APCO sent to the Blade. “Our global LGBTQ colleagues are represented at every level of our organization, including executive leadership. Our work with Egypt is about promoting the country and its broad potential in an inclusive way and not about defending any specific actions of its leadership.”

Militants with an affiliate of the so-called Islamic State on Nov. 24 killed more than 300 people at a mosque in Bir al-Abed, a town that is located in the northern Sinai Peninsula. The massacre is the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Egyptian history.

“Enabling Egypt to be better understood in the context of the geo-political and terrorism threats it faces, such as the recent horrific bombings, is the first step to providing the security needed to foster change in a very complex environment,” said Kraus in her statement. “We believe our work on behalf of the government and the people of Egypt does just that.”

Kraus added APCO does not “require people to work on accounts for which they are not comfortable.” 

“Those working on this account are comfortable with our mandate of promoting stronger ties and dialogue between the United States and Egypt,” she said. “The APCO global community does not condone, nor would we try to justify, specific policies or actions like those directed at the LGBTQ community, but, as a matter of principle, we believe that healthy discussion, dialogue and inclusion in the global community is a better longer-term path to change than isolation.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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