- (Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)
Three judges overseeing the trial of 43 people, including 19 Americans accused of working for non-governmental groups have resigned.
There is no known reason for their resignation, though analysts believe they resigned as a result of embarrassment, according to reports. Indeed, the trial has brought intense scrutiny of Egypt's practice of allowing non-governmental groups. In December, police in Cairo raided several NGOs, leading to an international outcry.
Egyptians were charged for the illegal raids and "very intense discussions" are taking place, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "We've had a lot of tough conversations, and I think we are moving toward a resolution."
Americans were prevented from leaving Egypt as a result of the raids; they were held without just cause because of a travel ban issued by the prosecutor general. Egyptian officials have repeatedly harassed non-government organizations, and now workers with the NGOs are facing trial.
Tensions between the United States and Egypt have been fragile and this latest development has put further strain on the relationship. The U.S. provides over $1 billion in aid to Egypt annually. Members of Congress have written to Clinton, asking her to withhold any further aid to Egypt until the NGOs' offices are reopened.
"The Egyptian authorities are using a discredited Mubarak-era law to prosecute nongovernmental groups while proposing even more restrictive legislation," noted Joe Stork of the Human Rights Watch campaign. "The government should stop using the old law, halt the criminal investigations and propose a law that respects international standards."
"It's essential that Egypt not take any legal action whatsoever against these NGO workers," stated representative Peter King of New York One.
"We're being accused of things we've never done. We've operated for 30 years … This has never, ever happened in the 30 years where we get our offices raided. And Egypt is supposed to be an American friend," a president of an NGO, Lorne Craner, told reporters.
In light of the judges' resignation, the trial has been postponed until April.