WASHINGTON - Egypt's government has agreed to return equipment and money seized Thursday from Egyptian, American, and other nongovernmental groups and to begin formal talks over their disputed participation in Egypt's political system, State Department officials said Friday.
U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson "sought and received Egyptian leadership assurances that the raids will cease and property will be returned immediately," said a statement by a senior administration official who asked to be identified as such.
Yet officials acknowledged that the groups' activities will remain suspended indefinitely, including their participation in observing the round of parliamentary elections that is scheduled for next week.
Egyptian activists and U.S. officials reacted with outrage when authorities seized laptops, cellphones, other equipment, and cash from the Egyptian offices of at least 17 nongovernmental groups. Among them were three U.S.-based groups: the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, and International Republican Institute.
The 17 groups say their activities are nonpartisan, aimed at helping Egyptians organize and learn technical skills involved in democratic government. But Egypt's military rulers have strongly resisted the groups' work, in some cases viewing them as foreign meddling in their domestic politics, and have begun investigating alleged violations of Egyptian law.
Egyptian activists complain that the military rulers, who have been in charge since the February ouster of Hosni Mubarak, have been moving too slowly toward democracy, with presidential elections not planned until mid-2012. Several hundred protesters again gathered in Cairo on Friday to press for change.
U.S. officials said they expected the groups to be able to resume all their previous activities.