The U.S. government paid millions of dollars to get Cairo to lift travel bans imposed on all foreign staff members of the NGOs, enabling the workers to leave Egypt in March.
But two Americans and a German say they will show up in court Tuesday, two of them for the first time since the case began. In interviews, the three talked about why they rejected the course of action preferred by their employers and the U.S. government, which favored a quick negotiated resolution rather than the spectacle of foreign pro-democracy workers standing trial in Cairo.
Instead, the workers said they would stand by their Egyptian colleagues and face up to what they called unfair charges. At least 16 of the 43 defendants are Americans, and those who left Egypt are being tried in absentia. But the bulk of those facing charges are Egyptians.
Sherif Mansour, an Egyptian American who last week resigned from his Washington job with Freedom House, traveled to Cairo on Sunday night intending to surrender to authorities. He was detained at the Cairo airport and spent the night in jail, according to other defendants in the case.
Mansour, 32, said he disagreed with what he described as Washington’s passive policy on the case. “They were hoping that if we all kept a low profile, it would fizzle away,” he said before his arrival in Cairo. “But that’s not acceptable for me. This is a battle that should be fought.”
Mansour, who became a U.S. citizen a few months ago, would be one of two Americans inside a courtroom prosecution cage.
Robert Becker, 43, a former employee of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, chose to stay in Cairo when six Americans subjected to the travel ban were ferried aboard a U.S.-chartered plane to Cyprus in early March.
“The whole idea of being safely ensconced in the U.S. while people who worked directly for me were on trial was unfathomable,” he said in a recent interview.
The investigation of the work of foreign-funded pro-democracy groups began in the fall after Egypt’s authorities demanded greater oversight of how U.S. aid money was being spent. Egyptian officials said the groups were working illegally because they had not been accredited. The organizations under scrutiny included the International Republican Institute, which was led in Cairo by Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The Americans said that they had been unsuccessful in getting accreditation but that the groups were doing valuable, nonpartisan political training and urged authorities to dismiss the charges.