Egypt stops US Transport Secretary’s son, three others, from leaving country: Travel ban affects members of pro-democracy group
The Egyptian authorities have blocked the son of a United States cabinet member and at least five other American employees of two Washington-backed nongovernmental organizations from leaving Egypt in an apparent escalation of a politically charged criminal investigation into foreign-financed groups promoting democracy.
Officials of the group, the International Republican Institute, said the Egyptian authorities had blocked its Cairo chief, Sam LaHood, from boarding a flight at the airport several days ago. His father is Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary and a former Republican congressman from Illinois. Officials of the group said Egyptian legal authorities told them four others, including two other Americans, had been barred from travel outside the country as well.
Officials of its sister organization, the National Democratic Institute, also said on Thursday that six of its employees had been banned from traveling, including three American citizens. It was unclear how many other Americans working at similar groups may also be banned from travel.
The episode comes at a tense moment in relations between Washington and Cairo. A year after a council of generals took power after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, Washington has begun publicly urging them to turn over authority to civilians as soon as possible. And legislators have begun agitating to put new conditions about the transition to democracy on the more than $1.3 billion a year in military aid that the United States sends Egypt, although the Obama administration has shown no inclination to allow such a move.
Egypt’s ruling military council, in turn, has been suggesting for months that the United States may have been financing nonprofit human-rights groups and democracy-building groups with an agenda to destabilize Egypt, part of a growing drumbeat of anti-Americanism that has emanated from the military-led government. The generals have often sought to blame outbursts of violence in the streets on such foreign interference.
The military council has also kept in place Mubarak-era laws requiring any foreign financing of Egyptian nonprofit organizations to pass through the government and go only to licensed groups. The government rarely issues licenses to genuinely independent civil society groups, ensuring that almost all of them remain in a kind of legal twilight and vulnerable to prosecution — including the American-backed groups.