Egyptian authorities have put six Americans — including Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — on a no-fly list, preventing them from leaving the country. The move is part of a crackdown by Egyptian security forces on Washington-backed groups that promote democracy and human rights. Egypt's military leaders, who took over after protesters pushed aside longtime leader Hosni Mubarak last February, say they want to lead a transition to democracy and hand over power to an elected president this summer. What do they hope to accomplish by provoking the U.S. so overtly? Here, a brief guide:
Who are the Americans being targeted by Egypt?
They work for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that promote human rights and civil institutions needed to build a democracy. The groups also helped monitor the country's recent parliamentary elections. Egyptian security forces last month raided the offices of 17 such NGOs, including the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House. Sam LaHood is the IRI's director in Egypt. He tells The New Yorker that when police barged into his office, they confiscated computers, documents, and "every stick of furniture, even book shelves."
Why are Egypt's leaders singling them out?
The government has given no official reason, although the travel ban appears to be linked to an investigation stemming from the raids. But clearly, say John Bresnahan and David Rogers at Politico, this is part of a "power struggle between the United States and Egyptian governments over the country's future direction." The generals, perhaps hoping to rekindle resentment against the U.S. for its ties to Mubarak, have accused "foreign hands" of stirring up protests against their rule. The NGOs "are being targeted because they revealed a lot of crimes and flawed interactions that have been carried out in the transitional phase," Hesham Genena, head of the Cairo Appeals Court, tells TIME, "and their voices keep getting louder and louder."
Is that the only reason?
Probably not. The U.S. government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on the civil-society programs these NGOs work on, along with more direct aid projects like sanitation and health. Before protesters drove out Mubarak, the U.S. aid was funneled through the government. Now the money goes directly to the NGOs. That, LaHood says, might have made some Egyptian officials mad. "It didn't really matter what the money went for," he tells The New Yorker. "It just wasn't going through their bank accounts."
Will provoking the U.S. backfire?
It certainly could. The Egyptian Army gets $1.3 billion a year in U.S. aid, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has a hand on the purse strings as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also happens to be chairman of the IRI. "The amplified pressure on NGOs could be a gamble," say Bresnahan and Rogers at Politico. "The move may well anger members of Congress more than it sways them to the military's side."