US Official: Egypt Lifts Travel Ban on US NGO Workers
(WASHINGTON) -- The worst crisis in U.S.-Egyptian relations appears to have been resolved as Egypt has lifted the travel ban it imposed on 16 American pro-democracy workers accused of violating Egyptian laws.
A U.S. official confirmed Egyptian media reports that the Egyptian government had lifted the travel ban it imposed on American pro-democracy activists to prevent them from leaving the country. “That’s my understanding,” said the official who added, “we can confirm we are still in discussions with the government of Egypt.”
The official did not have information as to when or how the affected Americans might make their way back to the United States.
Testifying on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was still no confirmation of the report. “We do not have confirmation that the travel ban has been lifted,” she said. ” We hope that it will be, and we will continue to work toward that. The reporting is encouraging, but we have no confirmation.”
Initially subject only to a travel ban, the crisis deepened as the 16 Americans were among 43 workers of pro-democracy non-governmental organizations (NGOs) criminally charged by an Egyptian court with operating beyond their scope and receiving illegal foreign funding.
More than half of the Americans initially subject to the travel ban were not actually in Egypt at the time the ban went into effect. It’s believed that seven Americans still remain in Egypt with all of them being sheltered at the U.S. Embassy after the U.S. ambassador to Egypt offered them refuge.
At another congressional hearing Wednesday, Clinton sounded optimistic that the crisis might be resolved soon. She told a congressional committee, “We believe we will resolve this issue concerning our NGOs in the very near future. That is my best assessment sitting here today. ”
She noted: “I take this very seriously and have expended an enormous amount of energy along with top other officials not only in our government, but we have reached out to many governments. I believe we will reach a resolution.”
To that end, while traveling in North Africa this past weekend, Clinton was engaged in intensive discussions with Egyptian officials towards the goal of resolving the situation “in coming days.”
American officials were initially perplexed by the travel ban and the subsequent criminal charges given that the NGOs had been operating legally in Egypt for years. Senior officials like Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey had personally interceded with Egypt’s military leadership to end the long-running situation.
Officials indicated that not resolving the travel ban and the criminal charges would damage relations between the two long-time partners and put at risk the $1.5 billion in annual aid that Egypt receives from the United States. Some $1.3 billion of that assistance is military aid.
The initial court date for the NGO workers took place on Sunday, but none of them showed up and the trial was adjourned until April 26.
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