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19 Americans to stand trial in Egypt on Feb. 26

REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Forty-three pro-democracy workers, including 19 Americans, will stand trial Feb. 26 in a case that is at the center of an escalating diplomatic crisis between Washington and Cairo over political reform in Egypt, the state news agency MENA reported Saturday.

The defendants, including Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, will be tried on charges of illegally operating and funding foreign nongovernmental organizations in an effort to create unrest in Egypt, MENA reported.

MENA reported that the prosecution's investigation has so far shown that four U.S.-based organizations --  International Republican Institute, Freedom House, National Democratic Institute and an organization that trains journalists -- allegedly operated in Egypt without licenses while illegally receiving a total of nearly $26 million.

Sam LaHood is the director of IRI's Egyptian office.

Only seven of the U.S defendants are in Egypt, including several who have taken refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. All have been barred from leaving the country.

Cabinet Minister Faiza Abu El-Naga accused the American groups of financing the spread of chaos in Egypt since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak's regime one year ago. In testimony in October, El-Naga said that Washington sought to disrupt Egypt through street protests to strengthen U.S. and Israeli regional interests.

The nongovernmental organizations have said they were working with Egyptians to build democracy and hold free elections. The MENA report accused them of seeking to "infringe on Egyptian sovereignty."

The inquiry into the organizations has dominated Egyptian media, especially after a number of U.S senators and representatives threatened to cut $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid to the Egyptian military.

On Monday, Islamist presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail launched a campaign calling on Egyptians to donate their own money in order to be self-sufficient and abandon the U.S aid.

Egypt's ruling military council has refused to stop the criminal investigation despite calls from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sen. John McCain is scheduled in coming days to to head a congressional delegation in another attempt to negotiate an end to the crisis.

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