|Juda Engelmayer||January 27th 2012|
The Cutting Edge News Contributor
Ten Americans working for nongovernmental organizations in Egypt have been barred from leaving the country. Among them is is a son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Sam LaHood.
Mr. LaHood is director of the Washington-based International Republican Institute’s Egyptian office, an organization that seeks to promote democracy in Egypt. Mr. LaHood reported that when he showed his passport to the immigration official at the airport on January 21, 2012, he was told to stand aside. He was then told that he could not leave the country, but was given no reason as to why.
Recently, Egypt’s military council has been suggesting that the United States is trying to destabilize Egypt by non-profit human rights groups and these democracy-building agencies. Upon learning the news of the ban, Washington officials said that Egypt was “endangering American lives.” Egypt referred to the travel ban as a “de facto detention.”
In December, LaHood’s organizational office in Egypt was raided and police took everything: computers, documents, furniture, and the office was sealed and remains so for the past six weeks. Prior to this ban, the American Embassy had been working hard to get the property back, but nothing has been returned or explained. Lorne W. Craner, President of the International Republican Institute, said that the Egyptian government had promised to close the investigation and return the seized property, but nothing has happened. “Here we are all these weeks later and all these assurances later, and things are getting worse,” Craner said.
Mr. LaHood reported that he complied with investigators, signed a statement on a copy of his passport and pledged to be available for his next “interrogation”. 17 members of LaHood’s staff had been interrogated and three called back for a second session.
President Obama called Egyptian Field Marshal Tantawi to reaffirm the close partnership between the United States and Egypt and to underscore the United States’ support for Egypt’s transition to democracy. The President emphasized that non-governmental organizations should be able to operate freely.
The Obama administration has just unambiguously threatened to withhold its annual aid to the Egyptian military. Michael H. Posner, an assistant secretary of state responsible for human rights issues, said, “It is the prerogative of Congress to say that our future military aid is going to be conditioned on a democratic transition.”
Senator John McCain said statement released by his office Thursday, “This crisis has taken a new and disturbing turn with reports that the Egyptian government is prohibiting employees of these NGOs, including American citizens, from leaving the country.”
“It is worrying enough that Sam and his fellow NGO workers have been singled out by name in Egyptian state-owned media,” McCain said, adding, “it is outrageous that these individuals would be held against their will by Egyptian authorities and prohibited from leaving the country.” He added that action must be taken immediately “for the safety of all of the employees of these NGOs — Americans, Egyptians and others, especially those who have been barred from leaving the country.”
The White House and LaHood have not commented further on negotiations to end the travel ban.