Charged American NGO Workers Leave Egypt

Seven American NGO workers on trial in Egypt have left the country today after bail in excess of $300,000 was paid for each of them.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Egypt today, seven Americans and 10 other foreigners were allowed to leave the country. They were working for civil society NGOs that are accused of spurring unrest. A travel ban imposed by the Egyptian government last month was lifted after the organizations paid bail of more than $300,000 for each activist.

But the Egyptian government is still pursuing the case against them, as we hear now from NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. And, Soraya, first, why did the foreign NGO workers choose to leave Egypt?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, as one of the officials at the NGOs told me, these people felt very confined, very much detained in the country. Even though they were free to move around in the country, they couldn't leave the country. In fact, some people who work for the NGOs who weren't being charged or weren't being imposed or having a travel ban imposed on them couldn't - were prevented from leaving. So it was really difficult for them, so they went home to see their families.

And also this relieved some pressure for the NGOs; they felt that there was just way too much attention and way too much pressure here in Egypt focused on these foreign workers.

SIEGEL: And, in the end, did these foreign NGO workers have any trouble leaving Egypt?

NELSON: No. Well, I mean, it was confusing at first for them because it was unclear that the travel ban had been lifted. It was unclear if there really was a bail amount. There was concern, if they went to the airport, would they be prevented from leaving because there were reports today, again, of a British citizen being prevented from leaving in conjunction with this, even though no British people were charged.

But, once they paid the bail, they were brought in five vans with tinted glass to the airport and taken to the VIP terminal, where a chartered aircraft took them to Cypress.

SIEGEL: And, Soraya, remind us again of what these NGO workers were charged with.

NELSON: There were a variety of charges against them and the NGOs ranging from operating illegally here in Egypt without the proper permits and visas, to not paying proper taxes, to receiving foreign funding illegally, to fomenting unrest. And these are things that, of course, the NGOs and the employees - those people charged - vehemently denied. They were here doing democracy-building exercises.

In fact, some of them had been invited to be monitors at the recent parliamentary elections, so quite a bit of division over, in fact, whether or not they were involved in what they were accused of.

SIEGEL: To the extent that this is a resolution of the case of the American NGO workers, does it represent some recovery of U.S.-Egyptian relations, which were certainly at a low point after they were charged?

NELSON: Well, certainly, this removes the very heightened tensions that have existed in recent weeks as this debate was going back and forth about whether Americans should stand trial, you know, be put in a courtroom in front of Egyptians and the whole world to see. So, in that sense, it's clear that the tensions are less now and the Americans, you know - I mean, the pressure will be less than it was.

But there still are workers for these U.S.-funded NGOs who are going on trial. I mean, they're still charged. The Egyptians are still here - the Egyptian workers. So this conversation will certainly continue in the coming months.

SIEGEL: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking with us from Cairo. Soraya, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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