CAIRO — An Egyptian criminal court on Tuesday found more than three dozen employees of foreign nonprofit groups, including at least 17 Americans, guilty of receiving illegal funds from abroad and operating unlicensed organizations in what the United States has criticized as a politically motivated trial that mars Egypt's transition to post-revolutionary democracy.
The defendants were given prison sentences ranging from one to five years, with many of the Americans receiving the stiffest sentences. But it appears unlikely that any of them will go to prison soon, because the defendants plan to appeal and because most of them either left the country before the verdict or face suspended sentences.
The guilty verdicts underline the persistent fear of foreign meddling among Egypt's leaders as well as the institutional disorder that has allowed for politically motivated trials.
Since the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt's rulers — first a top military council, then President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood — have at times blamed foreign agitators for the country's problems. At the same time, some of the groups first targeted in 2011 had been operating in Egypt for years and were trying to navigate the process of official registration when investigations against them began.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday dismissed the trial as politically motivated and called on Egypt's leaders to allow the work of nongovernmental groups.