- Associated Press - Thursday, January 26, 2012

CAIRO Egypt is preventing at least 10 Americans and Europeans from leaving the country, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, raising 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 ban became public after Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI), went to Cairo’s airport Saturday to catch a flight and was told by an immigration official that he could not 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 Mr. LaHood, 36.

An hour later, a man in civilian clothes gave him back his passport and escorted him to the curb, Mr. LaHood said.

“It’s a dark signal for groups who are interested in doing this kind of work,” he said.

Mr. LaHood’s father, a former congressman from Illinois, is the only Republican in President Obama’s Cabinet.

The IRI was among the groups raided last month, along with the National Democratic Institute and a number of Egyptian organizations.

The investigation into pro-democracy groups has been closely intertwined with Egypt’s political turmoil since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly a year ago.

In the raids, troops ransacked 17 offices of the 10 organizations around the country, carting away computers and documents. In addition to the IRI, linked to the Republican Party, the offices of the National Democratic Institute, tied to the Democratic Party, also were raided. The NDI’s Egypt director, Lisa Hughes, also was prevented from leaving the country.

The Egyptian military government said the actions were part of a legitimate investigation into whether the groups were operating legally.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the IRI, said Egypt’s actions “could set back the long-standing partnership between the United States and Egypt.”

The Egyptian army receives more than $1 billion a year from the United States.