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Americans on trial: a convenient distraction for Egypt's rulers?

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Seeking 'espionage' sentences

Lawyers who volunteered against the civil society workers demanded they be sentenced to jail for "espionage," saying they had worked with the CIA, and demanded the accused pay punitive damages for the harm they had supposedly caused Egypt. 

Four of the five organizations involved are American. Two of them, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), are loosely associated with the US political parties and have strong allies in Congress. They ran training for political parties in Egypt and observed elections.

Both IRI and NDI applied for registration with the Egyptian government before the revolution that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak. The registration was a requirement under a Mubarak-era law intended to restrict the activities of civil society organizations working for human rights and democracy.

The groups' applications were never approved, but neither were they denied, leaving them in legal limbo. But they had worked in Egypt for years, and officials from both organizations say they were in contact with the authorities about their activities, and were transparent. Both groups were certified by a government entity to monitor parliamentary elections.

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