Political upheaval upends Algeria lobbying

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Article Summary
Algeria ramped up its Washington lobbying last year to help make its case regarding the disputed Western Sahara and attract US investment in its underperforming oil and gas industry. But political upheaval back home has thrown those plans into turmoil. The energy-rich North African country hired US law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle in June 2018 along with other consultancies...

Algeria ramped up its Washington lobbying last year to help make its case regarding the disputed Western Sahara and attract US investment in its underperforming oil and gas industry.

But political upheaval back home has thrown those plans into turmoil.

The energy-rich North African country hired US law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle in June 2018 along with other consultancies to help write a new energy law aimed at boosting investor confidence. Two months later, public energy company Sonatrach hired Washington lobby shop International Policy Solutions for $25,000 per month to lobby on behalf of both Algeria and the firm itself.

International Policy Solutions has six agents on the account, including founder and president David Jory and ex- Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., a former member of the House Natural Resources Committee. Public filings show its lobbyists met with officials from the Commerce Department and the US Geological Survey soon after the firm was hired. They also reached out to key lawmakers, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Energy and Commerce energy panel Chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill.

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And in November, the Algerian government hired former National Rifle Association David Keene and his wife Donna Wiesner for $30,000 per month. The contract notably calls on Keene Consulting Services to “promote business, trade and investment opportunities of interest to Algeria.”

In his first six months of work for Algeria, Keene met with an A-list of Republican officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, Chief Justice John Roberts, and a half-dozen lawmakers including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a longtime champion of Algerian rival Morocco. Bolton delighted Algiers in December when he reaffirmed his support for a long-delayed independence referendum.

Meanwhile Foley Hoag, which has lobbied for Algiers since 2007, continues to represent the government for $35,000 per month. Following the Democrats’ mid-term victory, the firm notably reached out to freshman Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., in addition to the usual cast of congressional Algeria allies and leaders on foreign affairs.

The lobbying push scored some successes early this year, including a February visit by six lawmakers from oil-and-gas states – the first congressional delegation to Algeria since 2017. Foley Hoag lobbyists met with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., who led the delegation, two weeks before the trip.

The group met with then-Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and other officials, according to Algerian media. They also reportedly visited a camp for Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf. Algeria supports the Sahrawis’ right to independence in their native Western Sahara, which is administered by Morocco, and has long fought an annual influence battle against Rabat for favorable provisions in annual foreign aid appropriations legislation.

Events on the ground however risks setting back any progress in Washington. Mass protests forced out Abdelaziz Bouteflika after the ailing president ran for a fifth term in the April election, which has been indefinitely postponed.

Public unrest is now creating pressure for a purge of Bouteflika allies, potentially undermining lobbying efforts. Ouyahia, the former prime minister, was detained on corruption charges four months after his meeting with US lawmakers. And Sonatrach CEO Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour, a US-trained engineer who was leading efforts to reduce red tape and improve transparency, was fired in April – punting needed reforms into the uncertain future.

Julian Pecquet is the Washington Editor for Al-Monitor.

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