Egypt lifts travel ban on US pro-democracy workers, officials say

March 1, 2012

CAIRO –  Egypt on Wednesday lifted a travel ban on seven Americans employed by pro-democracy U.S. groups, signaling an end to the worst crisis in relations between Egypt and the U.S. in 30 years.

The seven, who include the son of U.S. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood, are among 16 Americans who are 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 on Sunday and adjourned until April 26, but the court’s three judges resigned from the case on Tuesday, citing “uneasiness.” None of the 16 Americans were in court on 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 officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
U.S. officials, furious over the case, have threatened to cut off aid to aid — $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 Sunday’s hearing, and the judge gave no instructions to police to ensure 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.

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