NGO workers depart Egypt after travel ban lift

Cairo: Seventeen foreigners, including nine American pro-democracy activists left Egypt on Thursday after a ban on their travel abroad was lifted by the judiciary.

Egyptian judiciary lifted the travel ban on the NGO workers currently facing trial for receiving illicit foreign funding and fomenting unrest in the country, a case that has tested Cairo`s relations with Washington.

The activists worked at non-governmental organisations and other institutions that were raided by the Egyptian authorities in December.

BBC quoted Mena, the official Egyptian news agency, as reporting that the Americans had arrived at Cairo airport on in five vans, accompanied by a US embassy official.

Their departure is expected to ease tensions with Washington, which had suggested that the failure of Egyptian military rulers to resolve the case could imperil US aid to its key Middle Eastern ally.

Media reports said the non-American passengers comprised a Norwegian, three Serbs, two Germans and a Palestinian.

Earlier court officials were quoted as saying in the media that each defendant had paid roughly USD 330,000 in bail.

The Americans include Sam LaHood, the son of US transportation secretary Ray LaHood and head of the International Republican Institute (IRI) in Egypt. He and several other US citizens had taken refuge inside their Cairo embassy.

The activists worked with five foreign NGOs accused of receiving illicit foreign funds and operating without licenses. The defendants and their lawyers have denied the charges, which they said were political.

The trial has led to one of the widest rifts between the US and its ally Egypt in recent history. US legislators threatened that they could imperil more than USD 1.3 billion annual American aid to Egypt, mostly to the military.