As the crisis unfolded over the last two months, furious officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, warned that the $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic assistance slated for Egypt this year was in jeopardy. Nuland pointed out Thursday that the court case against the pro-democracy groups was not over.
The 16 Americans facing charges are not expected to return to Egypt, but their trial has not been called off. After the first session Sunday, it was adjourned until April, and that ruling stands.
A convoy of white vans carrying the symbol of the U.S. Embassy arrived at Cairo airport Thursday afternoon. carrying the seven, accompanied by embassy officials. Egypt's state news agency MENA said the Americans were "happily" taking group photos at the airport, along with eight other foreigners who were also allowed to leave the country.
One of the seven flying out of Egypt on a special plane to Cyprus was Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He was the head of the International Republican Institute office in Cairo, a well-established pro-democracy group.
The IRI called their release "a positive development" and said it was "hopeful that the charges against its expatriate and local Egyptian staff will be dismissed." The IRI statement also expressed concern about the future of efforts toward establishing democracy in Egypt.
Ray LaHood welcomed the development. "I'm pleased the court has lifted the travel ban and am looking forward to my son's arrival in the U.S.," he said in a statement. "I'd like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during this time."
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and other senators said that the crisis "may have tested" U.S.-Egypt ties, but "the strength of our relationship prevailed."
Egypt and the United States have been close allies since the late 1970s, soon after the Egyptians abandoned decades of partnership with the Soviet Union and signed a peace treaty with Israel, the first Arab nation to do so. Informally, U.S. aid to Egypt is contingent on Cairo's keeping the peace with Israel.
The raids on the pro-democracy groups and charges against them dovetailed with frequent declarations by the ruling generals, blaming continuing unrest on unnamed "foreign hands."
Local activists ridiculed those statements, alleging that the military rulers were perpetuating the harsh, repressive tactics of the overthrown regime of President Hosni Mubarak and demanding that the generals hand over power to a civilian government.
Nonprofit pro-democracy groups have trained thousands of young Egyptians in political activism and organizing, an education that played a key part in the success of last year's uprising that toppled Mubarak.
The crackdown began in late December, when Egyptian security raided offices of 10 pro-democracy and human-rights groups. Workers, including the 16 Americans, were then charged with using illegal funds and promoting protests against the ruling Egyptian military.