The United States is worried of the fate of its citizens barred by the Cairo regime from leaving Egypt, which has criticized their lobbying activities. The new crisis in American-Egyptian relations comes during a new stage of elections, this time for the upper house of the parliament.
At least 10 American citizens were employed by three US-based firms that lobbied the American government on behalf of Egypt but which abruptly canceled their contracts with Egypt last Friday, following deteriorating relations with the regime in Cairo. It had criticized the lobbyists for having defended the government of Hosni Mubarak in its first raids on protesters last year.
One of the lobbyists who cannot get out of Egypt is Sam LaHood, the son of President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood. The three lobbying firms are run by former Congressmen and a powerful lobby group with close ties to the Obama administration.
The companies ended their contracts several weeks after the new regime raided the offices of NGOs that have ties with the Republican and Democratic parties and who were monitoring Egypt’s parliamentary elections. Egypt is conducting a criminal investigation into foreign-funded NGOs, and the travel ban on the lobbyists leaves them open to arrest for possible charges of incitement.
LaHood told Fox News that if he is arrested, "A trial could last up to one year in a case that's as wide ranging as this one is. The penalty for that is six months to five years in jail, so these are very serious charges."
Egypt’s barring the lobbyists from leaving the country has set off an uproar in Washington, whose embassy in Cairo took the unusual step to ensure their safety and move them into its diplomatic compound.
In the background is the more than $1 billion in annual aid that the United States gives Egypt, which is even more dependent on the funding in the waking of its deteriorating economy. Tourism has sunk dramatically since the anti-Mubarak revolution and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, which will head the new government.