Egypt has long been one of this country's most reliable allies in the Middle East, but that's changing.
It may end quickly, or it may not, but in the meantime chaos reigns in the case of the American citizens being held in Egypt in the aftermath of the overthrow of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The case has attracted considerable attention in the United States, not only because of the quasi-hostage situation but because one of those being held is Sam LaHood, the son of current U.S. Transportation Secretary and former Peoria-area U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood.
A trial was scheduled to begin Sunday in Egypt, but was suddenly canceled as the U.S. continues to try to work out some agreement with Egyptian authorities to release the hostages.
Even in the aftermath of the confusion following Mubarak's ouster, the U.S. still has plenty of influence with the Egyptian government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has frozen more than $1.5 billion in foreign aid to Egypt to induce a settlement, but even that financial pressure has so far not been sufficient.
This is a two-edged sword for the Egyptian government. Charges filed against foreign citizens have served as a useful distraction that have taken citizens' minds off the reality that the government there is as authoritarian now as it was under Mubarak. At the same time, the Egyptian government ginned up so much emotion on the hostage issue that some analysts say it's lost the ability to control the situation.
Much of Egypt's resentment stems from this country's long relationship with Egyptian dictator Mubarak, who took power after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. The U.S. helped undermine Mubarak's grip on power last year after a spontaneous rebellion helped drive him from office. But old grievances have taken precedence. The new military-run government has charged 43 employees of U.S.-backed nonprofit groups, including 16 Americans, with undermining the Egyptian government. Nine of the 16 Americans are no longer in Egypt while the remaining seven are holed up in the U.S. embassy. Fourteen of the 43 were held in a courtroom cage during Sunday's judicial hearing.
One particularly disturbing outgrowth of the turmoil in Egypt is renewed animosity directed at Israel. Sadat had negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt's former foe, but now that both he and Mubarak are gone the Egyptian government and its people are re-embracing that old hatred.
With luck and the passage of time, there's no reason to think that the U.S. and Egypt won't be able to work out a resolution to this situation. But this unfortunate standoff shows that the overthrow of Mubarak and other Middle East dictators threatens to create more instability, not less, in the world's most volatile region.