American activists fly out of Egypt
Cairo, March 2, 2012
US pro-democracy activists flew out of Egypt on Thursday after the authorities lifted a travel ban, a move that is likely to defuse the worst row between Washington and Cairo in decades.
Egyptian authorities had accused the campaigners, including the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of working for groups receiving illegal foreign funding and prevented them from leaving the country.
US officials said the case, as long as it was unresolved, jeopardised $1.3 billion in annual military aid, a cash transfer that began flowing after Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979.
Washington's ties with Cairo were a pillar of its Middle East policy under US ally Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed last year.
A judge said on Wednesday the ban had been lifted. 'They (the activists) have left,' the airport official told Reuters on Thursday, without giving further details.
The group of 15 people, included eight Americans, among them Sam LaHood, three Serbians, two Germans and one Norwegian and one Palestinian, Egypt's official news agency said. Airport sources said they left on a US plane sent to get them.
US officials had previously said there were only seven Americans involved still in Egypt.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said on Wednesday she expected a swift resolution to the row. Judge Abdel Moez Ibrahim told Reuters on Wednesday that, after an appeal by those charged, the case was switched from a criminal court to one handling misdemeanours where the maximum penalty was a fine, not jail.
With that, those involved could post bail of 2 million Egyptian pounds ($330,000) each and the travel ban would be lifted.
Sixteen of the 43 people charged are Americans. Some of the U.S. activists had sought refuge in the US embassy, which had no comment on the case. Egyptian politicians and analysts said ties with the United States would likely recover without major long-term damage.
Relations have been strained at a sensitive point when Egypt makes the transition from army to civilian rule.
'There is a realisation on all sides that the relationship with the United States is extremely important. For the United States, Egypt is a pivotal country,' said Mona Makram-Ebeid, a member of an advisory council appointed by the ruling army and also a professor at the American University in Cairo. - Reuters