Egypt has appointed new judges to hear the trial of 43 non-governmental organization (NGO) workers just days after six Americans among those charged left the country after a nearly $5 million bail was paid by the US government. The suspects, including 16 Americans and 27 other foreigners and Egyptians, were charged with promoting democracy in Egypt [JURIST report] without proper documentation and through the use of illegal funds. All but one of the 16 Americans charged in the alleged crimes left the country on Thursday. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland [official profile] said [Reuters report] that it would be up to the US citizens who left to decide whether to return to Egypt to face the charges, but also that she ultimately hopes the case will be dismissed.
The three judges originally responsible for adjudicating the workers' criminal prosecution withdrew from the case [JURIST report] last week. Though unclear as to what caused their withdrawal [AP report], Egyptian lawyer and rights activist Ahmen Seif-al-Islam suggested that political pressure could be the source, noting that the case has strained Egypt's relationship with the US. Specifically, in February, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice [official profile] urged Egypt to release the suspects, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] threatened to reconsider the $1.3 billion in annual aid given to Egypt [Reuters report]. In January, the Egyptian government denied cracking down [JURIST report] on NGOs amid criticism from various human rights groups. Earlier, in December, the Egyptian government agreed to cease its raids of NGOs [JURIST report] after the US expressed concern about Egypt's approach toward NGO activity.