CAIRO – Egypt banned at least 10 Americans and Europeans from leaving the country, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, hiking tensions with Washington over a campaign by Egypt’s military against groups promoting democracy and human rights.
The United States warned Thursday that the campaign raised concerns about Egypt’s transition to democracy and could jeopardize American aid that Egypt’s battered economy needs badly after a year of unrest.
The travel ban was part of an Egyptian criminal investigation into foreign-funded democracy organizations after soldiers raided the offices of 10 such groups last month, including those of two American groups.
The ban became public after Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the Washington-based International Republican Institute, went to Cairo’s airport Saturday to catch a flight and was told by an immigration official that he couldn’t leave.
“I asked her why I was denied, she said she didn’t know. I asked how to fix it, and she said she didn’t know,” said LaHood, 36. An hour later, a man in civilian clothes gave him back his passport and escorted him to the curb, LaHood said.
“It’s a dark signal for groups who are interested in doing this kind of work,” he said.
LaHood’s father, a former congressman from Illinois, is the only Republican in Obama’s Cabinet. The elder LaHood declined to comment.
The IRI was among the groups raided last month, along with the National Democratic Institute and a number of Egyptian organizations. Both American groups, linked to the political parties of the same name, monitored Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections. In the raids, troops ransacked 17 offices of the 10 organizations around the country, carting away computers and documents.
The Egyptian government said the raids were part of a legitimate investigation into whether the groups were operating legally.
Sen. John McCain blasted Egypt’s handling of the issue Thursday, warning that continued restrictions on civil society groups “could set back the long-standing partnership between the United States and Egypt.” AP