WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2012 — In a weekend call to Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta applauded recent elections, asked him to help in lifting a travel ban on U.S. citizens and expressed concern over restrictions on nongovernmental organizations, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said this morning.
The secretary also reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Egypt military relationship and congratulated the Egyptian people on completing the People’s Assembly elections and on a safe and successful Jan. 25 anniversary observance of the popular uprising against the regime of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.
Tantawi is chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military group that took power Feb. 11 in the wake of the revolt.
“In a discussion covering a range of topics,” Little said, “the secretary asked that Field Marshal Tantawi take steps to lift the travel ban on American citizens wishing to leave Egypt, and expressed concern over restrictions placed on [nongovernmental organizations] operating in Egypt.”
At the State Department on Jan. 26, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said several U.S. citizens working at some international nongovernmental organizations in Cairo “have been questioned by judges in Egypt and … are currently not being allowed to depart Egypt in connection with the government’s investigation of NGOs.”
The State Department, she added, is “working on four or five specific cases at the moment of folks who have tried to leave [Egypt] and have had difficulties,” including some who have gone to the airport and not been allowed to board aircraft.
“We are urging the government of Egypt to lift these restrictions immediately and allow folks to come home as soon as possible,” Nuland said, “and we are hopeful that this issue [soon] will be resolved.”
She declined to name the U.S. citizens, but said their passports had not been confiscated and they were “not in jail or otherwise detained.”
The problems with international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations began in December, when Egyptian police raided the organizations, confiscating property and interrogating staff members, she said.
“On a daily basis, our embassy is working with the Egyptian government,” Nuland said, adding that the issue has been raised at the presidential level and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been “very actively engaged.”
On Jan. 20, President Barack Obama called Tantawi to reaffirm the close partnership between the United States and Egypt and to underscore U.S. support for Egypt’s transition to democracy.
During the call, White House officials said, Obama reinforced the need to uphold universal principles and emphasized the important role that civil society, including nongovernmental organizations, have in a democratic society.
Obama underscored that nongovernmental organizations should be able to operate freely.
This is not just about nongovernmental organizations, the State Department spokeswoman said. “It’s also about the right of Egyptians and Egyptian civil society to operate freely and to support their democratic process through nongovernmental organizations.”
Nuland added, “We need to keep working on this and keep raising it until it’s fixed.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)