Americans detained in Egypt may be allowed to leave

Posted Feb. 29, 2012, at 9:35 p.m.

CAIRO — Seven Americans employed by pro-democracy groups in Egypt who have been under criminal investigation will be allowed to leave the country, Egyptian lawyers involved in the case said Wednesday, suggesting that Washington and Cairo are close to resolving a tense diplomatic crisis that threatened the alliance between the two nations.

Egypt barred the Americans and at least two European citizens from leaving after authorities raided the Cairo offices of several foreign-funded non-governmental organizations in December. Egyptian officials accused the groups of operating illegally, sowing unrest and working to carry out a U.S. plot to destroy Egypt.

The investigation triggered threats from outraged U.S. lawmakers who threatened to cut off the $1.3 billion Egypt gets in U.S. military aid each year. U.S. officials have been involved in intense discussions with the Egyptian government in recent days over the impasse.

Hafez Abu Saada, a lawyer representing some of the 43 defendants, said Wednesday that the travel ban would be lifted but only after the foreign defendants each paid about $332,000 in bail.

But U.S. officials declined to confirm that the travel ban had been lifted, and there was no evidence that the broader case would be dismissed. Nor was it clear whether the Egyptian government might be persuaded to issue operating licenses to the groups — including the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House — something it has steadfastly declined in the past.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday in an appearance on Capitol Hill that she hoped the ban would be lifted. “We will continue to work toward that,” she said, adding that “the reporting is encouraging but we have no confirmation.”

Clinton has said the situation has been made more difficult by the transition that Egypt is going through after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak as president. “They don’t have an executive that would have such authority to be able to determine what is and is not the policy of the new Egyptian government,” she told the BBC in a weekend interview.

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