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US democracy worker to travel to Egypt for trial

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – One of the American democracy workers accused of illegally operating political training programs in Egypt said Friday he would go back to Egypt to face charges along with Egyptians who were left to stand trial there.

“People are left holding the bag in Egypt for something they have not done and for something that is not wrong,” said Sherif Mansour, an Egyptian-born democracy worker who resigned Friday from the Washington-based organization Freedom House to face the charges. “I don’t think they deserve to be there in that position.”

Mansour, who this year became a U.S. citizen, is among 43 democracy workers charged by the Egyptian government after police raided programs across the country in late December. Egyptian authorities accused the workers, including Mansour and 15 other Americans, of operating political and campaign training programs illegally in the country and of illegally accepting U.S. and other foreign money to operate.

A hearing in the case is scheduled Tuesday in Cairo, and the trial could start as early as next week.

The U.S. demanded earlier this year that Egypt allow six American workers charged in the case to leave the country after a travel ban forced some of them to seek shelter in the U.S. Embassy. Among those not allowed to leave the country was Sam LaHood, head of the International Republican Institute’s operation in Egypt and son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The travel ban was lifted and the American workers allowed to leave after the U.S. posted a $5 million bail on their behalf and provided a special jet for their travel home.

Mansour worked at the time in Freedom House’s Washington office, promoting expansion of civil activism and democracy in Egypt. But he said he is scheduled to arrive Sunday in Cairo to face charges to counter Egyptian perception that U.S. democracy workers fled the country on their plane because they had done something wrong.

“The image that people have now of civil society is what has been published in the media about the case. It’s the photo of the Americans, the foreigners leaving the airport on a special jet, avoiding the trial,” Mansour said. “By returning, I want to challenge that image.”

Mansour said his Freedom House bosses disagreed with him about appearing to answer the charges, so he left the organization on friendly terms to appear as a private citizen.

David Kramer, Freedom House’s executive director, said two other American Freedom House employees would not return to Egypt, while four Egyptian employees are scheduled to appear in court next week. Kramer said some Egyptians believe the U.S. lost interest in the case against the democracy workers after the Americans left the country.

“I don’t think that’s accurate, but I fully understand the perception,” Kramer said. U.S. officials remain “very actively involved” in trying to resolve the case, he said.

Other groups whose workers face charges, including the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, declined to comment on whether their U.S. employees would appear in court.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)