CAIRO, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Americans employed by non-governmental organizations in Egypt were sheltered by the U.S. Embassy Monday amid fears they could be arrested, U.S. officials said.
A "handful of U.S. citizens have opted to stay in the embassy compound in Cairo while awaiting permission to depart Egypt," a senior State Department official told The Washington Post as U.S.-Egyptian relations hit a new low.
The official would not say if the sheltered citizens included Sam LaHood, director of the Cairo office of the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-funded pro-democracy organization.
LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is one of at least six American pro-democracy workers barred from leaving the country.
The official would not explain what threat, if any, prompted the embassy to take the highly unusual step of opening its doors to secure the Americans.
"They weren't in immediate physical danger, that we are aware of," the official told the Post.
A former IRI official told the newspaper his former colleagues had said they would take embassy shelter only as a last resort, if they had reason to believe their arrest was imminent.
IRI Middle East Director Scott Mastic told Arab broadcaster al-Jazeera he feared Egypt was about to issue arrest warrants "for the purpose of bringing people to trial."
"We don't have any way to confirm that that is about to happen, but the existence of a no-exit list to me demonstrates some intent to move persons to trial, and obviously we are very worried about the prospect of our staff being arrested," he said.
The provision of sanctuary began Sunday as senior Egyptian generals landed in Washington to try to mend relations with the United States. Congress is considering slashing $1.33 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.
The delegation, accompanied by defense officials from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, planned to discuss the crackdown on non-governmental organizations and the now-at-risk military aid with State Department and Pentagon officials, and with Capitol Hill lawmakers, Egypt's state-run Middle East News Agency reported.
Egyptian authorities last month raided the offices of several U.S.-funded organizations, including IRI, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House.
The groups work with Egyptian politicians and political parties to promote accountability and transparency in government.
Egypt's military authorities say dozens of Egyptian and foreign civil-society organizations that receive foreign funding operate without government permission. They have operated for years without endorsement because Cairo did not let them register as NGOs.
Meanwhile, Egypt's Foreign Ministry responded Sunday to the resignations of three top Washington lobbyists who quit Friday over the NGO crackdown. The ministry said the lobbyists did not quit but rather were terminated as a cost-cutting measure.
Separately, Egypt's state media reported Sunday the country's military rulers asked a panel of advisers for suggestions about handing over power to civilians earlier than the scheduled June deadline.
The military, which did not indicate if the request meant it was considering the move, has vowed to give up power only after a new constitution's ratification and a new president's election, both expected in June. The military said it wanted to oversee the constitution's drafting.
The developments came as Egyptians began voting for Parliament's upper house. In contrast to the November start of lower house voting, when people lined up for blocks and voted in record numbers, polling stations Sunday were largely empty, al-Jazeera reported.