By Scott Stearns
U.S. pro-democracy activists charged with encouraging unrest in Egypt have left Cairo after courts there lifted a travel ban against them. The standoff threatened more than $1 billion in U.S. financial support for Egypt.
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the the Americans were allowed to leave Egypt after their non-governmental organizations agreed to post their bail.
“We are very pleased that the Egyptian courts have now lifted the travel ban on our NGO employees,” said Nuland. “The U.S. government has provided a plane to facilitate their departure. And they have left the country. They are currently en route home.”
Nuland said the Americans were joined on their flight by Norwegian, Serbian, Palestinian and German NGO workers who also were accused by Egyptian courts of funding popular unrest and operating without proper registration.
She again said the Americans charged have done nothing wrong and that Washington will continue to work with Cairo’s new leaders to ensure the free operation of international and Egyptian non-governmental organizations.
“The departure of our people doesn’t resolve the legal case or the larger issues concerning the NGOs,” she said. “We remain deeply concerned about the prosecution of NGOs in Egypt and the ultimate outcome of the legal process. And we will keep working with the Egyptian government on these issues.”
Asked whether the Americans will return to Egypt to face the charges against them, Nuland said it is for them and their lawyers to decide.
Sixteen Americans were among 43 NGO workers caught up in a December crackdown by Egypt’s military-led government. An Egyptian court opened their trial on Sunday, but adjourned until late-April.
Egyptian authorities say the NGOs were interfering in Egypt’s democratic future and encouraging protests against the government.
One of those groups, the International Republican Institute, says it is hopeful that the charges against its expatriate and local Egyptian staff will be dismissed. In a written statement, the group said it is concerned about the “continuing investigations of Egyptian civil society groups and the impact it will have on Egypt’s ability to move forward with the democratic transition that so many Egyptians have sought.”