Panetta Asks Egypt to Lift U.S. Citizen Travel Ban

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)