Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
The controversial criminal trial against 16 Americans and 27 other democracy activists was postponed for two months. The scene was chaotic, but the fact that the judge chose to put off the trial until April 26 was seen as a positive sign that the Egyptian government was eager to avoid further damaging relations with the United States.
Egyptian defendants were the only one to attend the court session Sunday, and “the judge gave no instructions to police to ensure the American defendants … attend the next hearing,” notes the Associated Press. Washington and Cairo have reportedly been holding “intense discussions” over the last few days that have included meetings between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, reports Reuters.
The New York Times says only seven of the accused Americans are still in Egypt, including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. They have all taken refuge in the American Embassy to avoid arrest.
Only 14 defendants appeared in court Sunday and most seemed relaxed as they pleaded not guilty. Supporters were quick to express hope that the adjournment was a good sign. “This late date is intentional to give an opening for a solution, either by registering the NGOs or amending the law,” said a local representative of Freedom House, one of the groups targeted.
The pro-democracy groups are accused of receiving foreign funds illegally and coordinating with the CIA to destabilize Egypt and foment unrest in the country.