Public Relations, or ‘How to win hearts and minds the easy way’

Public RelationsOne of the two illegitimate governments of Libya has signed a one-year PR deal with a political lobbying firm based in Washington DC. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) government, which is recognised internationally, but was earlier this year declared illegitimate by Libya’s highest legal body, the Supreme Court* has appointed Qorvis MSLGROUP to ‘provide strategic advice and assistance on public relations issues’ at a cost of US$1m.

*The court – which may have been intimidated into its decision by HoR’s rival government, the Tripoli-based General National Council (GNC) – may itself have been in breach of its own compositional and quorate regulations when making the judgement.

It found that the GNC – which broke its own rules of quorum when appointing its Prime Minister – was responsible for HoR’s illegitimacy because it side-stepped its internal regulations when setting the framework for the HoR’s creation, but suggested no punishment for the GNC.

The HoR itself compounded its precarious legal status when it, too, broke its own internal regulations by appointing a Prime Minister when not quorate.

The HoR, which sits at the farthest eastern edge of Libya, might be expected to have more important matters to deal with.

It is rivalled by the GNC – which existed before it, and is based in the Libyan capital – and neither can be said to hold any real power within the state. As they watch, powerless, four illegal militias (one claiming to support the HoR, another making equally-improbable declarations of affiliation with the GNC, one fundamentalist Islamic battalion, and international terrorists IS) battle for primacy across the country.

But it may have been inspired by the recent successes of another firm, hired by the blood-soaked military dictatorship of General Sisi in neighbouring Egypt.

When Sisi snatched power, and then declared a state of emergency in which his new ‘government’ killed more than 1,000 people and proceeded to imprison all its political opponents, the US government suspended aid payments to Egypt and criticised Sisi’s sham regime.

Yet today, since an ‘election’ in which Sisi won an eye-wateringly unlikely 97.1 per cent of the votes, (and with his political opponents still conveniently in prison) and following the sentencing of former (democratically-elected) President Mohamed Morsi to 20 years in a court case described by Human Rights Watch as ‘compromised by due process violations, the appearance of bias and an absence of conclusive evidence’*, the US has ceased criticising the regime, and reinstated aid payments: such is the power of PR.

*HRW’s statement on the trial included the following analysis: ‘The prosecution’s case was founded on the conjecture that Morsi was responsible simply because of his relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever political responsibility Morsi may have, the prosecution didn’t establish his criminal guilt in this case…

‘The allegations against Morsi relied primarily on the testimony of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Zaki, the commander of the Republican Guard, a division of the army tasked with protecting the presidency. Zaki testified that there “must have been” an agreement between Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to disperse anti-government protesters by force but gave no evidence to support his hypothesis.’

Egypt did not pay for its PR project, but was funded by a mystery donor.

Given that the HoR has not even been able to set a workable budget for Libya (it is joined in this failure by the GNC), it seems very likely that its own planned publicity attack is being bankrolled by the same funder – or at least a close associate.

Saudi Arabia – no stranger to the capability of good US-based PR to ‘smooth over’ human rights abuses and gain or retain US government backing – was regarded as the most likely donor to the Egyptian PR offensive.

Like Sisi, the Saudi regime opposes the Muslim Brotherhood movement (Morsi’s government was affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood), which it opposes for its democratic ideals.

In Libya, the GNC – the HoR’s political rival – is dominated by politicians affiliated to the Brotherhood.

Wherever the money has come from, it is unlikely to have been completely wasted: we can expect to hear more, over the coming 12 months, about how the HoR’s illegitimacy is less important than that of the GNC, and how the militias which claim to support the HoR carry guns, destroy buildings and shed blood for ‘democracy and freedom’, while those who say they protect the GNC are dangerous, murderous, destructive Islamist extremists, hell-bent on the destruction of Libya and therefore posing a clear and present danger to Europe.

Meanwhile, IS – a genuinely and undeniably extremist Islamist organisation which slaughters civilians with the aim of creating a fundamentalist Islamic dictatorship – which does not fight for the GNC or HoR and which no government needs to lobby Washington to oppose, will continue to threaten, rob, and murder people across the state.

It may not be $1m wasted, but we may question the attitude of those who have agreed to prioritise the laundering of the HoR ahead of standing against the gravest threat to the safety of Libyan people, and all other people who reside within the state.

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