CAIRO (AP) - Egypt banned at least 10 Americans and Europeans from leaving the country, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, hiking tensions with Washington over a campaign by Egypt's military against groups promoting democracy and human rights.
The United States warned Thursday that the campaign raised concerns about Egypt's transition to democracy and could jeopardize American aid that Egypt's battered economy needs badly after a year of unrest.
The travel ban was part of an Egyptian criminal investigation into foreign-funded democracy organizations after soldiers raided the offices of 10 such groups last month, including those of two American groups.
The investigation is closely intertwined with Egypt's political turmoil since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly a year ago. The generals who took power have accused "foreign hands" of being behind protests against their rule and they frequently depict the protesters themselves as receiving foreign funds in a plot to destabilize the country.
Egyptian opponents of the military say the generals are trying to smear the protesters in the eyes of the public and silence organizations they fear will undermine their managing of the country.
Also startling is the military's willingness to clash with its longtime top ally, the United States, over the issue, particularly since the army itself receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington. The December raids brought sharp U.S. criticism, and last week President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Egyptian military chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi to emphasize "the role that these organizations can play in civil society," according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Thursday.
The ban became public after Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the Washington-based International Republican Institute, went to Cairo's airport Saturday to catch a flight and was told by an immigration official that he couldn't leave.
"I asked her why I was denied, she said she didn't know. I asked how to fix it, and she said she didn't know," said LaHood, 36. An hour later, a man in civilian clothes gave him back his passport and escorted him to the curb, LaHood said.
"It's a dark signal for groups who are interested in doing this kind of work," he said.
LaHood's father, a former congressman from Illinois, is the only Republican in Obama's Cabinet. The elder LaHood declined to comment.