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How American Election Observers Wound up Arrested in Egypt

March 7, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Now to the story of the Americans, including the son of a Cabinet secretary, who traveled to Egypt to observe the elections, and ended up under arrest.

Ray Suarez has our story.

RAY SUAREZ: For the year since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, there’s been continuing unrest in Egypt. Protesters have demanded immediate reforms and an early end to the interim government installed by the military.

The regime, in turn, targeted foreign groups that observe elections and promote democracy in Egypt. A court charged 43 foreigners with stoking unrest, and the government barred them from leaving Egypt. The group included 16 Americans, although nine had already left.

Those remaining included Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and director of the International Republican Institute. That sparked warnings from Washington about more than $1 billion in American aid.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: We have worked very hard the last year to put into place financial assistance and other support for the economic and political reforms that are occurring in Egypt, and we will have to closely review these matters as it comes time for us to certify whether or not any of these funds from our government can be made available under these circumstances.

RAY SUAREZ: Last month, after behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Egyptian court abruptly adjourned the trial until April. The travel ban was lifted as well.

The U.S. government then posted nearly $5 million in bail, and last week, six of the Americans flew home. U.S. officials said it’s up to them whether they return to Egypt to stand trial.