Egypt bars Americans from leaving: What's going on here?
Egypt's military rulers escalated a dispute over US-funded NGOs by barring some American employees from leaving the country, including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The junta that runs Egypt has banned a group of Americans and Europeans working on democracy promotion from leaving the country, among them the son of Ray LaHood, President Obama's Transportation secretary.Skip to next paragraph
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Sam LaHood, the director of the International Republican Institute's (IRI) Cairo office, told the Associated Press that he was turned away at the airport last Saturday as he sought to fly out of the country. It has since emerged that a number of other employees of foreign NGOs have been barred from departing, stemming from the December raids by Egypt's ruling military on their offices, among them those of the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
The raids on groups that had been operating openly in Egypt for years, albeit without official licenses and occasionally subject to state harassment, appeared to be a warning from Egypt's military rulers, known as the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), against pushing for too much change too fast.
It's hard to imagine the US, which has given Egypt roughly $2 billion per year in aid since the country signed its peace accord with Israel in 1979, turning its back on Egypt. But if Egypt's ruling generals were looking for a way to push the Obama administration in that direction, targeting the son of a cabinet secretary and others would be a very good way to go about it.
Real fear of foreign conspiracies?
What is going on here? Though the xenophobia of Egypt's rulers is often treated as a pose, going after these US government-funded groups makes it almost seem as if they believe their own propaganda. Perhaps they have in fact convinced themselves that all opposition to military trials for civilians, or demands that their frequently unchecked power be removed, stem from foreign agitation, and that all "real" Egyptians are behind them.
On the other hand, the targeted NGOs are groups with reasonably long track records in Egypt, and well known to the state bureaucracy. The military could have forced them to close up shop without an investigation and the threat of criminal charges, and Washington would have grumbled. But the travel bans have pushed the issue front and center and will require stern US diplomatic engagement. It's hard to imagine that the head of SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and his fellow officers wouldn't have anticipated this – or what they think they gain.