US woman in NGO dispute stopped from leaving Egypt

CAIRO (AP) — An American woman banned from leaving Egypt as part of its crackdown on foreign-funded pro-democracy groups was stopped from boarding an international flight Thursday, Cairo airport officials said.

The officials said Mary Elizabeth Whitehead was trying to board a flight to Germany minutes before take off, when airport security stopped her. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with police regulations.

The spat over the non-government groups has caused the deepest crisis in Washington’s relations with Cairo in decades, particularly after strong ties under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30-year-long rule.

According to the security officials, Whitehead was listed among seven Americans who are barred from travel by Egypt’s attorney general. Some have sought refuge at the American Embassy in Cairo, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who heads the International Republican Institute’s office in Egypt.

An American official said, however, Washington understands Whitehead was not among the Americans on a no-travel ban, and she also was not among those charged with wrongdoing. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because efforts are ongoing, said the U.S. was speaking with Egyptian authorities to figure out why she was prevented from traveling.

The U.S. State Department says there are a total of 16 Americans facing trial. Egypt’s state news agency says, however, that 19 Americans are facing trial on charges that include the illegal use of foreign funds and operating offices without licenses.

American officials have threatened to cut $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt over the NGO crisis.

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