Egyptian authorities have announced the lifting of a travel ban that had prevented seven American nonprofit workers from leaving the country. The seven are among 43 workers charged with operating illegally in Egypt following a raid of their offices and the seizure of computers, files and other documents in December; one of the Americans, Sam LaHood, is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The charges against the Americans are not being withdrawn but they will be allowed to pay bail of two million Egyptian pounds (about $330,000) and leave the country.
The removal of the travel ban is a step to resolving a diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Egypt. In the balance was $1.3 billion of aid that the U.S. gives the Egyptian military; reports that the funds could be withheld had led to Egypt threatening to review the the Camp David peace treaty with Israel.
Politically Charged Trial of Nonprofit Workers
The†trial of the 43 workers began on Sunday and was adjourned by Egyptian judges until April 26. Then on Tuesday, the Egyptian judges assigned to the trial recused themselves; a more senior judge had requested, behind the scenes, that they reconsider the ban. On Wednesday, Egyptian state media reported that the judges had written a letter “requesting their recusal on the grounds that the suggestion about the travel ban had compromised their position.”
A total of 19 Americans have all been charged with illegally using foreign funds to incite unrest and operating without a license. 16 Egyptians as well as Serbs, Lebanese, Germans, a Norwegian, a Jordanian and a Palestinian, all face the same charges, which could carry a five-year prison term. The Americans are employees of three nonprofits, one of which is a journalism organization, the International Center for Journalism, and two of which seek to promote democracy, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which Sam LaHood is the director of. Two of the other foreign workers will also be allowed to travel outside Egypt, but the fate of the Egyptian defendants remains unclear.
Clinton: “We donít really have an Egyptian government to have a conversation with”
Activists have said that the raids on the nonprofits’ offices and the trials of their workers represent attempts by Egypt’s ruling military government, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), to silence critics. In the year since Hosni Mubarak was deposed, the SCAF has repeatedly sought to blame foreigners for outbreaks of violent in Egypt including a soccer riot in the city of Port Said that left 74 dead.
In what the New York Times calls a “face-saving way out of the crisis” for Egypt, U.S. officials had said for some days that a diplomatic solution was in the works. But the very suggestion that American-funded groups could have been trying to interfere with the Egyptian revolution created a “powerful anti-American backlash” so that Egypt’s authorities “were unwilling to risk the publicís wrath by appearing to bow before American pressure.”
Noting that she hoped that the situation would be “resolved shortly,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added that
ďOnce we make progress on the N.G.O. issues, then we can have a broader discussion both with the Congress and with the Egyptian government. Of course, one of our problems is we donít really have an Egyptian government to have a conversation with. And I keep reminding myself of that because it is an uncertain situation for all the different players.Ē
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Photo of Tahrir Square, Cairo, by sierragoddess
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