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Americans Barred From Leaving Egypt Include Secretary LaHood's Son

Egyptian authorities' efforts to prevent organizations that promote democracy from freely working inside their country have now ensnared the son of a U.S. cabinet secretary.

Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and at least five other Americans have been barred from leaving Egypt.

In late December, Egyptian security forces raided the offices of 17 non-governmental organizations, including pro-democracy institutions sponsored by the U.S. government. As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported at the time, "it's clear that these are the groups that the military rulers are very concerned about, creating what they see as chaos here in the country, at the moment."

One of those groups, the International Republican Institute, is directed in Egypt by Sam LaHood. Over the weekend, he went to the Cairo airport and was told he couldn't leave the country.

"I asked [the official] why I was denied, she said she didn't know. I asked how to fix it, and she said she didn't know," LaHood, 36, tells The Associated Press. "It's a dark signal for groups who are interested in doing this kind of work."

The State Department has protested the action. So has Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in this statement:

"It is worrying enough that Sam and his fellow NGO workers have been singled out by name in Egyptian state-owned media; it is outrageous that these individuals would be held against their will by Egyptian authorities and prohibited from leaving the country. These individuals and the organizations that employ them have broken no laws, and indeed, have made every effort to comply with the statutes, regulations, and requests of the Egyptian government. ...

"I call on the Egyptian government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to cease the harassment and unwarranted investigations of American NGOs operating in Egypt, to register these groups immediately, to return all of the property confiscated in the raids against these organizations, to end the intimidation of their employees by Egyptian officials, and to permit those members of these groups who wish to leave the country to do so."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.