Gov­ern­ment lifts travel ban on Amer­i­cans fac­ing charges

7 worked for groups sup­port­ing democ­racy

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY HAMZA HEN­DAWI

CAIRO | Egypt on Wed­nes­day lifted a travel ban on seven Amer­i­cans em­ployed by prodemoc­racy U.S. groups, sig­nal­ing that the worst cri­sis in re­la­tions be­tween Egypt and the U.S. in 30 years soon could be brought to an end.

The seven, who in­clude the son of Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Ray Lahood, are among 16 Amer­i­cans on trial along with 27 oth­ers on charges of us­ing il­le­gally ob­tained funds to fo­ment un­rest in Egypt and in­cite protests against the na­tion’s mil­i­tary rulers.

The trial opened Sun­day and ad­journed un­til April 26, but the court’s three judges re­signed from the case Tues­day, cit­ing “un­easi­ness.”

None of the 16 Amer­i­cans was in court Sun­day. Only the seven af­fected by the travel ban are still in Egypt.

Egyp­tian of­fi­cials said the travel ban was lifted by the coun­try’s top pros­e­cu­tor at the rec­om­men­da­tion of the case’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing judge. It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether the charges against the Amer­i­cans would be dropped.

The off icials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the case.

U.S. of­fi­cials, fu­ri­ous about the case, have threat­ened to cut off aid to Egypt — $1.3 bil­lion in mil­i­tary aid this year and $250 mil­lion in eco­nomic as­sis­tance.

Re­solv­ing the cri­sis has been the sub­ject of in­tense be­hind-the-scenes ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Signs of a pos­si­ble res­o­lu­tion came as early as Sun­day, when only Egyp­tian de­fen­dants at­tended the hear­ing, and the judge gave no in­struc­tions to po­lice to en­sure that the Amer­i­can and other for­eign de­fen­dants at­tend the next hear­ing in two months.

Then came the res­ig­na­tion of the judges, an­other clear sign that the case could be dropped.

Egypt and the United States have been close al­lies since the late 1970s, soon af­ter the Egyp­tians aban­doned decades of part­ner­ship with the Soviet Union and signed a peace treaty with Is­rael, the first Arab na­tion to do so.

In­for­mally, U.S. aid to Egypt is hinged on Cairo keep­ing the peace with Is­rael.

The charges dove­tail with con­stant pro­nounce­ments from Egypt’s mil­i­tary rulers that protests against their rule are di­rected by un­named, dark for­eign forces, a claim that is ridiculed by Egyp­tian ac­tivists.

The heav­ily pub­li­cized case of the four U.S. pro-democ­racy groups has been linked to the tur­moil roil­ing Egypt since an 18-day pop­u­lar up­ris­ing forced Hosni Mubarak to step down in Fe­bru­ary 2011.

The groups have trained thou­sands of young Egyp­tians in po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism and or­ga­niz­ing, an ed­u­ca­tion that played a key part in the suc­cess of last year’s up­ris­ing.

Egypt’s rul­ing gen­er­als claim they sup­port the up­ris­ing, rou­tinely re­fer­ring to it as the “glo­ri­ous rev­o­lu­tion.”

Rights groups have crit­i­cized the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the civil so­ci­ety groups and the charges against the work­ers.

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