CAIRO – Egypt lifted a travel ban Wednesday on seven Americans charged with fomenting unrest by working for illegally funded pro-democracy groups, signaling an end to the worst crisis in Egypt-U.S. relations in 30 years.
The clash put $1.5 billion in annual American aid to Egypt at risk and sparked intense behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two countries to find a way out.
Defense lawyer Tharwat Abdel-Shaheed said the seven Americans, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, could only leave the country if they post bail of 2 million Egyptian pounds (about $300,000). They have also signed pledges to attend their next hearing…
Egyptian officials said the travel ban was lifted by the country’s top prosecutor at the recommendation of the case’s investigating judge. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
It was not immediately clear whether the charges against the Americans would be dropped.
But even before the ban was lifted, there were signs the case was dissolving under intense U.S. pressure. The trial of more than 40 U.S. and foreign aid workers opened on Sunday and was adjourned until late April. The court’s three judges excused themselves from the case on Tuesday, citing “uneasiness.”
Only the 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.
The workers were charged following a December raid by Egyptian security of offices of 10 nonprofit pro-democracy and human rights groups, confiscating documents and equipment.
I’m not sure why the AP characterizes this as “signaling an end” to the crisis — there are a lot of unanswered questions. Will the charges be dropped? Is that large sum of bail money ever going to be refunded? What about the organizations’ Egyptian employees? And what about the materials seized in the December raids — will they be returned? (Recall that, in addition to releasing the Americans, returning the seized property was a condition that would be placed on military aid under an amendment introduced by Sen. Rand Paul.) The Obama administration shouldn’t let up on that “intense U.S. pressure” until these questions are answered.