Egypt again delays trial of U.S. nonprofit groups

American Robert Becker of the National Democratic Institute leaves the defendants' cage after a hearing in the trial of employees of nonprofit groups in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, March 8, 2012. AP Photo

(AP) CAIRO - A Cairo court Thursday delayed once again the case of 16 Americans and 27 other employees of nonprofit groups accused of fomenting unrest in Egypt.

The case has plunged U.S.-Egyptian relations to their lowest point in 30 years and has led to American threats to cut off $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt. The pressure was alleviated somewhat when Egypt allowed the American defendants to leave the country after posting nearly $5 million in bail.

But Egyptian officials, who were sharply criticized for allowing the Americans to leave Egypt, have continued to pursue the case.

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Only one of the American defendants was in court during Thursday's session, along with 14 of the 16 Egyptians charged in the case. After about 20 minutes of procedural matters, the judge ordered the prosecutors to ensure that all defendants attend the next hearing on April 10 and adjourned the trial.

Nine of the 16 Americans were outside Egypt when the case was referred to court for trial and did not return to the country. Six more left last week when Egypt unexpectedly lifted a travel ban on all non-Egyptian defendants. One American, Robert Becker, opted to stay behind and was in court on Thursday.

Detained Americans leave Egypt after bail paid

The decision to lift the travel ban and effectively let the American defendants avoid trial triggered a political storm within Egypt, with the ruling generals accused of succumbing to U.S. pressure and interfering in the work of the judiciary.

The trial opened on Feb. 26, but the judge later stepped down, citing "uneasiness." Judge Mahmoud Mohammed Shoukri later said in published comments that his action followed "political interference" in the case. The military has denied interfering in the proceedings, saying the entire case was in the hands of the judiciary.

The 43 defendants belong to five nonprofit groups, four American and one German. They are accused of receiving foreign funds without the knowledge of the Egyptian government in violation of the law governing the work of nonprofit organizations. They are also accused of using these funds to carry out illegal activity to foment unrest.

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