Egypt Sets Date for Trial of Democracy Activists

Posted February 18th, 2012 at 5:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Egypt said Saturday the trial of 43 democracy activists, including 19 Americans, in connection with an investigation into illegal funding of foreign non-governmental organizations, will begin on February 26.

Egypt's state news agency MENA said the defendants have been charged with establishing unlicensed chapters of international organizations and accepting foreign funding to finance the groups.

The announcement has raised already high tensions between Cairo and Washington and came as the U.S. is attempting to establish better ties with the military council that took power last year following the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak.

The Americans accused in the case have been banned from leaving Egypt after some of them left the country, and others have taken refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Among those accused is Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the International Republican Institute and son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The remaining 24 suspects include Germans, Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians.

Washington has warned that going forward with the trial could prompt a cut to Cairo's $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

Earlier this month, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey made an unsuccessful bid for a solution during a trip to Cairo. Senator John McCain of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is also due in Cairo in the near future to meet top Egyptian officials over the case.

Egyptian officials say the investigation uncovered a large amount of evidence of illegal funding from the United States, Europe and Arab countries. They say some Egyptian military officers are upset at the judicial steps being taken.