7 Americans Leave Egypt – But Charges Remain

Seven US citizens posted a bond of close to USD 5 million to leave Egypt amid a trial over NGO's fomenting unrest and elections meddling

Gabe Kahn.,

Egyptian soldier guards central Cairo square
Egyptian soldier guards central Cairo square

Seven Americans, on trial for charges their pro-democracy groups fomented unrest and sought to influence Egypt's recent parliamentary polls, flew out of Cairo on Thursday.

The seven, who had been holed-up in the U.S. embassy for weeks, posted nearly $5 million in bail for themselves and nine others who fled before Egyptian authorities imposed a travel ban.

A convoy of white vans carrying the symbol of the US Embassy arrived at Cairo airport Thursday afternoon, carrying the seven, who were accompanied by embassy officials.

The 16 Americans facing charges are not expected to return to Egypt, but their trial continues. After the first session Sunday, it was adjourned until April, but that ruling stands.

The departure of the seven eases a diplomatic crisis between the US and Egypt that had been building for two months, after a crackdown on pro-democracy and human-rights groups by the Egyptian government.

Although its citizens were safely on their way home, Washington indicated its fury over the affair was still burning. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland pointedly noted that no decision had been made on US aid to Egypt.

At the height of the conflict, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that the $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic assistance slated for Egypt this year was in jeopardy.

Nuland pointed out Thursday that the court case against the pro-democracy groups was not over.

The crackdown began in late December, when Egyptian security raided offices of 10 pro-democracy and human-rights groups. Workers, including the 16 Americans, were then charged with using illegal funds and promoting protests against the ruling Egyptian military.

The raids on the pro-democracy groups and charges against them dovetailed with accusations that "foreign hands" were interfering in Egypt's domestic politics.

The Obama administration spent some $200 million backing liberal and pro-Western political parties in Egypt's elections.

According to Campaigns & Elections magazine, the money was funneled into Egyptian politics through the State Department, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute.

In addition to proving to be an utter failure in organizing Egypt's moderate and secular parties into a meaningful force at the polls, Obama's left-handed funding of political parties in Cairo has fueled an underlying anti-American sentiment on the banks of the Nile.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other senators said that the crisis "may have tested" U.S.-Egypt ties, but "the strength of our relationship prevailed."