Americans Prevented from Leaving Egypt

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Lisa Mullins: I am Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Tensions are rising between the United States and Egypt. Washington would like to see a quicker transition in Cairo from military rule to democracy. Egyptian authorities though don't like outsiders trying to influence their affairs. The latest sign of that is a decision to bar several US citizens from leaving Egypt. They include Sam LaHood. That's the son of President Obama's Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood. The younger LaHood directs the Egypt program of the International Republican Institute. Egypt accuses the institute and other US non-profit organization of illegally funding pro democracy groups inside Egypt. David Kirkpatrick is covering this story for the New York Times. He is now in Cairo. So what happened to bring this too ahead specifically with this US cabinet member's son in Egypt.

David Kirkpatrick: Well, Sam LaHood tried to take a trip to visit a friend in Dubai several days ago and he was stopped at the airport. And they told him you are not allowed to travel because you are under investigation. And at that point lawyers from his organization called up the Egyptian prosecutor and said, "Is this true, and who else?"  And so they learned that, I believe, five of their employees or four national are barred from travel. And then, their sister organization, the National Democratic Institute made a similar inquiry and learned that some six of their employees, including three Americans were also barred from travel. And this follows a kind of escalation of anti-American rhetoric about foreign funding through these groups. And then, that culminated one month ago in a raid on the offices of a number of foreign funded non-governmental organizations here, including those two American groups, a raid in which computers, files, and money was confiscated and their offices were closed and are not yet reopened.

Mullins: So what is the government saying about why it has taken these measures? What do they say that these organizations and these people did wrong?

Kirkpatrick: Well the government is not saying a word about this. The foreign ministry says, "Well, look this is the decision of the prosecutor and we have nothing to do with it." A lawyer who represents some of these groups said, "Don't read too much into it. It's not that out of the ordinary. They're considering these people a flight risk in a way that Egyptians would not be a flight risk because they have foreign passports."  On the other hand, Mr. LaHood and other people who work for these groups say, "Look, we've signed statements on copies of our passports saying we're staying. We keep showing up for all our interrogations. We're no flight risk whatsoever. And by the way, what did we do wrong?"  because these groups are by American standards relatively innocuous. They teach the kind of nuts and bolts of how to organize a political campaign, figure out who your constituents are, pin up some flyers, sign a petition for a petition drive, that kind of stuff, which does not feel particularly subversive to someone who is used to operating in western context.

Mullins: So why might it have been subversive inside?

Kirkpatrick: Well now, from the Egyptian point of view under the Mubarak government, the government of Hosni Mubarak who was deposed a year ago, they passed a law that said non-governmental organizations need to be licensed one, and any money coming into the country can only go to licensed groups and has to go through or with the approval of the Egyptian government. And that law is still on the books. Since the Revolution, in the expectation that things were moving in a more democratic and open direction the Americans have dispensed that and decided they could just give money to whatever non-governmental organization they choose in Egypt. And that is where the dispute has arisen. So if Egypt's current military rulers were trying to find a way to sort of maximally irk Washington and the American authorities, they've pretty much found it, they've come very close to it.

Mullins: To what ultimate end? We should add here that the US is still giving if I'm not mistaking $1.3 billion to the military, to the Egyptian military.

Kirkpatrick: Why they're doing this, I have to say puzzles me. It's a little bit like biting the hand that feeds you. The Egyptian military which is to such a great extend dependent on the US government for its own financial resources is awfully picky about who else in Egypt might turn to the US government for financial resources.

Mullins: All right. David Kirkpatrick, Cairo Bureau Chief of the New York Times in Cairo. Thanks very much.

Kirkpatrick: Thank you.