Egypt set to try American democracy activists
To be honest, I never thought it would come to this. I believed that cooler heads in the Egyptian government who realized how important - indeed vital - American aid is to their economy would step in and perhaps change the charges and let everyone off with a slap on the wrist.
This may yet happen. But the chances are looking bleaker by the day.
There are 19 Americans charged in this paranoid fantasy being pushed by the Egyptians that "outside groups" are fanning the flames of unrest. Many have taken refuge in the embassy. Will any of them show up for the trial?
An Egyptian court will start the trial on February 26 of activists from mostly American civil society groups accused of working illegally in Egypt, in a case which has strained U.S.-Egyptian ties.
A judicial source told Reuters that the 43 accused, including around 20 Americans, would go on trial next Sunday, charged with working in the country without proper legal registration.
The state new agency MENA said the hearing would take place at North Cairo Criminal Court.
Investigators swooped down on the offices of civil society groups on December 29, confiscating computers and other equipment and seizing cash and documents.
The American defendants have been banned from leaving Egypt and some have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy. Among those accused is Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the International Republican Institute and the son of the U.S. transportation secretary.
"The date of the first hearing in the case of foreign funding involving foreign civil society organizations has been set for February 26," a judicial source told Reuters.
The American groups raided were the IRI and the National Democratic Institute, both democracy-building groups loosely affiliated with the U.S. political parties, as well as the human rights group Freedom House, and the International Center for Journalists.
Egyptian Minister of Planning Faiza Abul Naga has linked U.S. funding of civil society initiatives to an American plot to undermine Egypt. The democracy groups' leaders denied their activists had done anything improper or illegal.
Obama is probably doing the right thing by playing this low key, trying not to antagonize the Egyptians while using multiple channels to express our concern and outrage. It would do no good to posture and breathe fire. The Egyptians have been told the consequences of going through with this outrage. A congressional delegation led by John McCain is due to arrive in Cairo tomorrow, apprently to underscore the threat of an aid cutoff.
There is still time for an Egyptian climb down. My worry is Obama and his foreign policy team have shown little or no competence to handle anything like this to date so there's no telling how this is going to turn out.