The incident, which appears to be related to the Egyptian military’s recent efforts to rein in groups promoting democracy and human rights, has led the U.S. to express new concerns regarding Egypt’s transition to democracy. According to Michael Posner, the State Department’s highest-ranking human rights official, it could potentially lead to a reduction in American aid to the economically beleaguered country.
The edict banning the group members from traveling out of the country is part of an Egyptian criminal investigation into foreign-funded democracy. Since the military rulers replaced former dictator Mubarak in the “Arab Spring,” they have accused “foreign hands” of inciting protests against their rule and plotting to destabilize the country.
The travel ban became public after Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the Washington-based International Republican Institute, attempted to take a flight abroad from Cairo and was told by an immigration official that he could not leave. Shortly afterwards, a man gave him back his passport and escorted him to the curb. “It’s a dark signal for groups who are interested in doing this kind of work,” said the 36-year-old LaHood. LaHood’s father, a former congressman from Illinois, is the only Republican in Obama’s Cabinet. Sam LaHood said his lawyer informed him that he is being investigated on suspicion of managing an unregistered non-governmental organization and receiving “funds” – his salary – from an unregistered NGO.
Last month, Egyptian authorities raided the IRI, as well as the National Democratic Institute and a number of Egyptian organizations, seizing computers and documents. Both American groups, linked to the Republican and Democratic parties, monitored Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections. The Egyptian government claimed the raids were part of a legitimate investigation into the legal status of the organizations.
Posner noted recent American legislation that makes annual aid to Egypt dependent on specific actions, including abiding by its peace treaty with Israel, holding free and fair elections and “implementing policies to protect freedom…and due process of law.” Posner added, “Obviously, any action that creates tension between our governments makes the whole package more difficult.”
The United States is scheduled to give $1.3 billion in military assistance and $250 million in economic aid to Egypt in 2012. According to the Congressional Research Service, America has given Egypt a yearly average of $2 billion in aid since 1979. The Egyptian military has been in a standoff for months with protesters who demand it immediately hand over power to civilians.