Egyptian Judge Lifts Travel Ban on NGO Workers Facing Trial, Lawyer Says

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood criticized a court decision lifting a travel ban on a group of foreign non-governmental organization workers, who are on trial in a case that has strained U.S.-Egyptian relations.

“It’s a regrettable decision,” Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, which controls the largest bloc in Egypt’s parliament, said in a telephone interview today. The case “shows that America continues to interfere in Egypt’s affairs,” he said.

The 43 NGO employees, including 16 Americans, are being tried for illegally accepted foreign funds and stoking unrest, charges they deny. The U.S. has warned that the case could lead to a cut in the $1.3 billion a year of military aid it gives to Egypt, signaling the deepest rift in relations between the longtime allies in decades.

The April 6 movement, one of the youth groups that helped organize protests that led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak last year, said in a statement that it “strongly condemns” the “blatant intervention” in the work of the judiciary and the “mysterious decision to revoke the travel ban.

The ruling was disclosed earlier today by a lawyer representing some of the defendants. Attorney Negad El-Boraie, who represents employees of Freedom House and the International Republican Institute, said bail was set at 2 million pounds ($332,000).

The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, two of the five NGOs whose employees face charges, have links to the two main U.S. political parties and one of the Americans barred from travel was Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Several U.S. senators and the head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff traveled to Egypt after the charges were announced.

Change of Judges

Adding to the confusion, the judges on the court that oversaw the first session excused themselves from the case on Feb. 28. The judge who handles case assignments, Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, said yesterday the reason was a conflict of interest and that he would reassign the case within a couple of weeks.

The Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak, has emerged as the most organized political force in the country. Its Freedom and Justice Party won almost half the seats in parliamentary elections that ended in January.

Any external intervention in Egyptian affairs would “have a negative impact on relations between Egypt and that country,” Ghozlan said. “If this was the case before the revolution, it is now no longer acceptable to accede to, now that the people have their dignity, honor and sovereignty.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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