Cairo: Egypt on Thursday lifted a travel ban on
seven Americans employed by pro-democracy US groups,
signalling that the worst crisis in relations between Egypt
and the US in 30 years could soon be brought to an end.
The seven, who include the son of US 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 yesterday,
citing "uneasiness." None of the 16 Americans were in court on
Sunday. Only the seven affected by the travel ban are still in
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.
US officials, furious over the case, have threatened to
cut off aid to aid, USD 1.3 billion in military aid this year
and USD 250 million in economic assistance.
Resolving the crisis has been the subject of intense
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, US 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 publicised case of the four US pro-democracy
groups has been linked to the turmoil roiling Egypt since an
18-day popular uprising forced Hosni Mubarak to step down on
February 11 last year.