The departure from Egypt of six American employees of nongovernmental organizations is good news for those involved and may dampen efforts in Congress to cut military aid to that country at a delicate time in Egyptian politics. But the price tag for their release -- $300,000 in bail per defendant -- makes the resolution look more like a hostage deal than a victory for due process. Indeed, the Americans were hostages of a sort, having taken refuge in the American Embassy in Cairo. One is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The Egyptian government has not ended its investigation of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (LaHood's group), which walk the fine line between promoting democracy and interfering in Egypt's internal affairs. A State Department spokeswoman warned that the decision to allow the activists to leave "doesn’t resolve the legal case or the larger issue of NGOs in Egypt," and noted that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton must certify to Congress this spring that Egypt is abiding by democratic principles.
The crisis might be finessed if Egypt's new parliament were to repeal the registration law the NGOs were accused of violating. But the initial reaction from Egyptian politicians has been criticism of the military government for caving in to the United States. Investigating the NGOs may have been the brainchild of a holdover from the Hosni Mubarak regime, but perceived U.S. interference in the Egyptian judicial process offended even reformists. Nor are the NGOs necessarily welcomed even by Egyptian parties that took advantage of their expertise in the past.
Meanwhile, the imagery of the Americans' ordeal isn't likely to do a lot for tourism.
-- Michael McGough
Photo: American activists arrive to the airport to leave Egypt aboard a U.S. military plane, in Cario, Egypt, on March 1, after the government lifted the travel ban. Credit: STR/EPA