American Robert Becker of the National Democratic Institute leaves the defendants' cage. An Egyptian judge said on Thursday he was delaying until April 10 the trial of civil society activists, including 16 Americans accused of receiving illegal foreign funds and pursuing their pro-democracy activities without a licence. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany /Reuters)

Egypt’s military prosecutor is investigating allegations against 12 of the country’s best-known activists and public figures, the official state news agency reported Thursday.

The allegations, filed in a complaint by more than 700 people, include inciting the demise of the state and inflaming strife against Egypt’s military rulers, the MENA news agency said.

The chief military prosecutor, Maj. Gen Adel al-Mursi, told MENA that his office was looking into the case and that it had not gone to court. It was still unclear Thursday whether the 12 would be prosecuted.

Those under investigation include TV personalities Yosri Fouda and Reem Maged, former Google executive Wael Ghonim, the celebrated author Alaa Al Aswany and lawmaker Ziad el-Elaimy, who has refused to apologize for publicly describing Egypt’s top general, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, last month as a donkey.

If the investigation leads to prosecutions, the case could spur international outrage. Aswany’s most famous book, the 2002 novel “The Yacoubian Building,” was widely read and translated. Last year, Foreign Policy magazine ranked Aswany No. 1 in its annual list of 100 top global thinkers. He and the others under investigation have been harsh critics of Egypt’s military leaders during the current period of political transition.

The military leadership assumed power in February 2011 when then-President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. The top generals had always been powerful, but they operated in the shadows and remain unaccustomed to public criticism. Many activists have been investigated for criticizing the interim rulers, whom they view as blocking the path to democratic governance.

Mohammed Beltagy, a leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s most powerful Islamic party, denounced the latest investigation, calling it “unacceptable” in a statement.

Also Thursday, an American accused of working illegally in Egypt appeared in a Cairo courtroom with 14 fellow Egyptian defendants.

Robert Becker, who works for the National Democratic Institute, one of four American organizations targeted in a crackdown on foreign nongovernmental organizations, had declined to leave Egypt last week with other foreign NGO workers on a U.S.-government chartered plane.

The foreigners were whisked out of Egypt to stave off a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Cairo, after the payment of millions of dollars bail. The clandestine departure of the foreign defendants, who had been barred from leaving the country, sparked public outrage over what many here saw as interference by the executive branch and the United States in Egypt’s judiciary.

At least 16 Americans, several Europeans and the 14 Egyptians were named in the criminal case, in which the NGOs are accused of using illicit foreign funds to sow unrest in Egypt. The groups deny the accusation.

On Thursday, the trial, which originally began Feb. 26, restarted in a new court after the judges overseeing the case resigned without explanation early last week. The hearing was adjourned Thursday and is scheduled to resume April 10.

“Unfortunately, they put the American in the cage with the others,” said Sarwat Abdel Shahid, a defense lawyer for NDI and the International Center for Journalists, referring to a prosecution cage used in Egyptian courts. “It’s not a murder. It’s not dealing with drugs. It’s a political case, and they shouldn’t be in a cage.”

Sarwat said Becker told him that he stayed in Egypt because he didn’t want to leave his life and a relationship here.