Washington Post Covers IRI and NDI Staff Detained in Egypt

Son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood barred from leaving Egypt
The Washington Post
By Leila Fadel

CAIRO — A top U.S. official’s son who is working for a pro-democracy group in Egypt was barred from leaving the country on Saturday, part of an ongoing crackdown on such groups by Egypt’s military government that has outraged the United States.

Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood, is the director for the Egyptian program of the International Republican Institute, a Washington-based civil society organization.

The institute was one of three U.S.-based non-profit groups in Cairo that were raided and shut down last month by Egyptian authorities, who accused the groups of using foreign funds to support ongoing unrest in Egypt.

After an outcry in Washington and in European capitals, the ruling generals appeared to retreat, promising President Obama and other top officials that the computers and other property confiscated from the three U.S.-based groups and at least four other non-governmental organizations would be returned and their offices reopened.

But the offices remain closed, the equipment is still gone and, in what appears to be an escalation, a travel ban has been imposed on foreigners being investigated by the Egyptian government. Reports in the local press said investigations of some 40 foreigners would be referred to court next month.

“It’s gotten more serious,” said Sam LaHood, who was told of the travel ban only when he was turned away from the airport on Saturday. Three other Americans who work for the institute have been barred from traveling as well.

“The reality is, this is bigger than me or IRI,” LaHood said. “There are 300 NGOs being investigated by the Egyptian government, and only a handful of them are American.”

In addition to the institute, the Cairo offices of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute and Freedom House were also raided on Dec. 29. Security forces confiscated computers, cellphones and documents. NDI’s offices in Alexandria and Assiut also were raided.

Authorities stormed 17 offices in all, including some operated by Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation and at least two Egyptian non-governmental organizations: the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions and the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory.

NDI and IRI are democracy-building groups backed by the U.S. government that operate globally. Both have been monitoring Egypt’s ongoing, multi-phase parliamentary elections. Freedom House advocates for democracy, political freedoms and human rights.

By investigating the groups, Egypt’s embattled military chiefs appear to be trying to prove that foreign organizations have been funding and orchestrating recent waves of anti-government protests, in which scores have been killed and hundreds wounded.

A year after the citizen revolt that pushed longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak from power, many Egyptians have resumed demonstrations, saying that the caretaker military government has adopted many repressive, Mubarak-era tactics. They are calling for a faster transition to civilian government, and for immediate reforms to protect individual rights and freedoms.

U.S. officials have said that the intimidation of civil society groups could jeopardize U.S. military aid to Egypt, which totals more than $1.3 billion a year. Congress has adopted a resolution that will not allow such aid to Egypt without a certification that the government is carrying out a democratic transition.

One of the key benchmarks Congress is looking at is the freedom of association, said Michael Posner, the assistant Secretary of State for human rights, labor and democracy. The continued restrictions on NGOs could affect that aid.

“We are greatly concerned that organizations like IRI, NDI and Freedom House ought to be able to operate,” Posner said during a news conference in Cairo. He said in an interview that he had “expressed concern” to Egyptian officials.

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