CAIRO — Sam Lahood, son of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and director of the International Republican Institute in Egypt, touched down in Washington, D.C., on Friday after more than four weeks of hiding in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
He was the most high-profile of seven Americans and several other foreigners barred from traveling while under criminal investigation in Egypt, and caught in the center of a diplomatic crisis that threatened to derail the decades-old alliance between Egypt and the United States. Now he is home after his organization paid a hefty bail. On Thursday, a new trial will begin in the case in which the NGOs are accused of working in Egypt illegally and failing to pay taxes. There are 14 Egyptians here who will head back to the prosecution cage. It is unclear if the one American who chose to stay behind, Robert Becker of the National Democratic Institute, will show up in court.
“I am thrilled to be reunited with my family,” LaHood said Monday, in his first interview since returning home. “There was real fear of arrest, the investigation and the legal situation was very unpredictable.”
“In December if someone had said that you would be raided, I would have said you are crazy, if someone had said you’ll be put on a no-fly list I would have said you are crazy and if someone had said you’re going on trial I would have said you are crazy. But all those things happened.”
For over a month LaHood did not leave the embassy. Near the end of his saga the rest of the Americans took refuge there as well, except Becker, who refused to get on a U.S. government plane to leave Egypt last week. While they hid, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson worked tirelessly to resolve the crisis, he said.
LaHood said he would not be returning to Egypt for a while, with the statute of limitations on the case open for 20 years.
“What you had here was a Mubarak-era minister trying to drive an agenda of her own,” he said referring to the Mubarak government hold-over Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abou el-Naga. “The reality is Egypt’s going to have to chart its own course in the future relationship with the U.S.”
Publicly, Naga and other Egyptian officials have accused the NGOs, including the U.S.-backed IRI, NDI and Freedom House, of working to sow unrest in Egypt. Documents from the case accused the groups of working to implement an American and Israeli plot against Egypt and accused the NGO workers of having links to the CIA.
The U.S. government and the NGOs have denied the allegations. Naga’s office has ignored repeated interview requests.
“We’re all still very worried about our Egyptian colleagues who remain on trial. We’re hopeful this can be resolved in a way that makes sense and is fair,” LaHood said.
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