Americans Take Shelter in US Embassy in Cairo

American citizens trapped in Cairo have taken shelter in the U.S. Embassy as the dispute between the two countries escalates.

Chana Ya'ar ,

Muhammad Ali Mosque, Cairo
Muhammad Ali Mosque, Cairo
Israel news photo: Flash 90

American citizens trapped in Cairo are taking shelter in the U.S. Embassy in the Egyptian capital, as the dispute between the two countries escalates.

"We can confirm that a handful of U.S. citizens have opted to stay in the embassy compound in Cairo while waiting for permission to depart Egypt,” State Department spokeswoman Kate Starr told reporters Monday at a briefing on the situation.

Starr did not reveal any further information on the identities of those who had sought shelter at the embassy, or how many had arrived.

An Egyptian military delegation is expected in Washington D.C. this week for routine talks, but it is likely the conversation this week will be anything but “routine,” sources said.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Egyptian Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Military Council, on January 20, to underscore his interest in the NGOs. Also discussed was Egypt's request for a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, in which the United States is a participant.

At least six American citizens, all of whom work for either the International Republican Institute (IRI) or the National Democratic Institute, have been barred from leaving the country.

The two NGOs are among 17 pro-democracy organizations targeted by the Egyptian government in sudden raids earlier this month. Both receive U.S. funding and are involved with political parties.

Sam LaHood, director of the Egypt unit of IRI  in Cairo, told Fox News on Friday that he and a number of other Americans had been arrested and hit with travel bans more than a week ago.

LaHood, who was stopped when he attempted to leave the country on Saturday, is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

He said there was a real concern the group could be placed on trial and jailed for up to five years.

The Americans have been accused by an Egyptian judge of being employed by and receiving salaries from an unregistered non-governmental organization (NGO).

On Sunday, Egypt began the first step in its two-phase electoral process for the Upper House of Parliament -- its Shura Council -- which is scheduled to be completed by mid-February. Only two-thirds of the 270 seats of the Shura Council, primarily an advisory body, are filled by elected officials. The rest are filled by appointees.

The Lower House of the Parliament -- by far the larger part of the Egyptian government -- was elected in the final quarter of 2011 in polls that swept the once-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to victory. An official of the Islamist group was elected as Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament earlier this month, for the first time in 60 years.