16 Americans go on trial in Egypt today (Update: Trial delayed)
My prediction that the US and Egypt would find a way out of this mess through some kind of compromise hasn't come to pass - yet.
The New York Times is reporting frantic last minute negotiations seeking to prevent the certain rupture of relations if Egypt goes ahead with this kangaroo court:
As late as Saturday evening, United States officials said they still could not predict what would happen when the trial opens Sunday.
American diplomats, Egyptian lawyers and others involved in the case said the efforts had foundered amid a breakdown in the lines of authority within the military-led transitional government in the final months before the generals have pledged to leave power. American officials say they have tried to find Egyptian counterparts who might intercede, but Egyptian leaders say they cannot intervene in the judicial process.
If the case is not resolved, Congress and the Obama administration have vowed to cut off the $1.55 billion in annual aid to Egypt, potentially rupturing the three-way alliance among Washington, Cairo and Jerusalem that has been a linchpin of regional stability.
The 16 Americans and 27 others face criminal charges of working for unlicensed nonprofit groups and accepting foreign money to operate them. Nine of the Americans were outside Egypt when the charges were filed, and Egypt has barred the remaining seven, including the son of the United States secretary of transportation, from leaving.
One possible scenario is for the Egyptians to go ahead with the trial and convict the Americans, then release them under some compromise deal regarding their sentencing. This would be unacceptable to Washington but given the kind of man who sits in the White House, perhaps the Egyptians don't believe that.
Out of the 16 Americans charged, only 7 are still in Egypt and they are staying at the American embassy out of fear of being arrested. However this plays out, it will not be good for US-Egypt relations.
Reuters is reporting that the trial of the 16 Americans has been delayed until April.
Judge Mahmud Mohamed Shukry adjourned the trial until April 26 at the end of the session in the rowdy chamber, where television reporters crowded around him and an interior ministry official threatened to expel journalists.
His decision could give more time for a diplomatic solution to the case, lawyers said.
"The time set allows for the NGO law to be amended and this could leave room for lawyers to argue that the defendants are not guilty. A fine may be demanded however," said Khaled Suleiman, a lawyer acting against the defendants.
In the crowded courtroom on the outskirts of Cairo, lawyers who said they were volunteering in the case against the activists, demanded the defendants be imprisoned and accused them of "espionage."
"These organizations are accused of espionage and going against the law. Most of them are in contact with the CIA. These organizations gathered information and reports on Egypt and sent them to the U.S. State Department," the lawyer Suleiman said.
Judge Shukry said the defendants were free to leave the court and would not be held in detention until the next hearing.