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Egypt bars Americans working for democracy groups from leaving

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times –

CAIRO — The son of a U.S. Cabinet official and other Americans working for a democracy rights group have been stopped from leaving Cairo as part of a criminal investigation into foreign funding of non-governmental organizations working in Egypt.

The move is certain to intensify a diplomatic rift between Cairo and Washington over aid to human rights and democracy groups that are viewed with suspicion by Egypt’s military rulers. The U.S. government said it was outraged over recent police raids on the Egyptian offices of three American-backed organizations.

Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and several other members of the International Republican Institute have been barred from leaving Egypt. The government has suggested that such groups are trying to destabilize the politically charged country as it transitions to democracy after last year’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

The younger LaHood reportedly tried to fly out of Egypt last week. There were also reports that staffers for the National Democratic Institute have been barred from leaving the country.

“We have received verbal notification that six NDI staff, three of them Americans, have been served travel bans,” NDI Egypt director Julie Hughes told Reuters.

Tensions between the U.S. and Egypt’s military leaders have sharpened in recent months. Washington, which gives Egypt $1.3 billion a year in military aid, has pressed Cairo to protect civil rights and for the army to hand power over to a civilian government. Egypt’s new Parliament met this week, but a president isn’t scheduled to be elected until June.

Egypt views U.S. pressure, along with non-governmental groups involved in democracy programs, as meddlesome. In December, Egyptian police raided 17 such agencies, including the International Republican Institute, Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute.

The travel bans and raids appear to be part of a strategy to intimidate non-governmental organizations. Egypt’s generals have repeatedly blamed “foreign hands” for the nation’s economic and political turmoil. Egypt claims the organizations are violating funding and licensing requirements. Mubarak’s now-deposed government passed the regulations years ago to ensure that no agency opposed to the regime received money.

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