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									Lead judge Mohammed Shoukry said onTuesday that "the court felt
uneasiness" in handling the case [AFP]
All three judges in Egypt's trial of 43 NGO workers have pulled out of
the case, according to a court official.

The defendants, including 16 US citizens, are charged with using illegal
foreign funds to foment unrest that has roiled Egypt over the past year.

The non-governmental organisations flatly deny the charges, and US
officials have hinted foreign aid to Egypt could be in jeopardy because
of the case.

Mohammed Shoukry, the lead judge in the case, said on Tuesday that "the
court felt uneasiness" in handling the case, according to a court
official. He did not elaborate.

The trial has so far only made it as far as its opening session, and
would need to be restarted with a new panel of judges.

Combined with indications that the two countries are trying to find an
acceptable resolution to the crisis, there is speculation that the case
could be dropped.




The trial was expected to reconvene on April 26
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told two senate panels on
Tuesday that the US and Egypt, which has long been considered a close
ally of Washington, were "in very intensive discussions about finding a
solution".

"We've had a lot of very tough conversations," she said. "We're moving
toward a resolution. It's important that they know that we are continuing
to push them," Clinton said.

The US has threatened to cut off up to $1.3bn in military aid and another
$250m in economic assistance to Egypt over the case.

Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said: "The head of the
appeal court will have to appoint another three judges and the whole
trial will have to begin again.

"The reason for the judges’ action is not particularly clear and the
timing, coming after the statement by Hillary Clinton, may or may not
have influenced their actions," he said.

PJ Crowley, the former US state department spokesperson, told Al Jazeera
that all sides involved in the politically charged case were trying to
figure out how to resolve the situation with the least damage possible.

"The US has been very fervent in terms of decrying the prosecution of
NGOs, and what you have here, unfortunately, is a clash of two democratic
principles that Egypt needs to embrace," he said.
"On one hand, to develop a system of free and fair elections so that more
people can participate in the political process and have their voices
heard, and that’s what the NGOs were trying to do to," Crowley said.

"On the other hand, you need the fundamental pillar of democracy that is
an independent judiciary, and these judges for whatever reasons are
indicating that they are uncomfortable with the position they were put
in."

'Absolute pandemonium'

Our correspondent said that Sunday's opening hearing in the case, which
was not attended by most of the defendants, had been marked by "absolute
pandemonium".

"One of the principle witnesses is the minister of planning and
international co-operation. She argued in her evidence, that Al Jazeera
has seen, that NGOs are part of an outside plot to foment civil dissent
in Egypt.

"This case is as much to do with Egypt’s insistence on its sovereignty as
it has to do with the NGO workers. The judges may be uncomfortable
handling something that is less to do with the law but with wider
political and diplomatic issues."

The affair began in December when Egyptian security raided 17 offices of
10 groups, confiscating documents and equipment.

It led to charges that the groups, including human rights organisations,
had financed protests over the past year with illegally obtained funds
and had failed to register with the government as required.

The groups insist their financing is transparent, and say that all their
efforts to register have been stalled by the Egyptian government.

Egyptian officials claim the matter is entirely in the hands of the
judiciary, and many view the US threats as unacceptable meddling.

Of the 43 defendants in the case, 16 are from the US, 16 are Egyptians,
and others are German, Palestinian, Serbian and Jordanian. Of the 16 US
citizens, seven have been banned from leaving Egypt, among them Sam
LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Several have taken
refuge at the US embassy in Cairo.

The 43 worked for the International Republican Institute, the National
Democratic Institute, Freedom House, a group that trains journalists and
a German nonprofit organisation. If convicted, they could face up to five
years in prison.

								
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