Did the cutting and the delaying of $291 million in aid to Egypt come as a surprise to the Egyptian ruling regime that had been certain of President Trump’s full support for Egypt? The Egyptian government reacted quietly to the United Sates Administration’s decision, stating that it reflects poor judgment of the decades-long strategic relationship between the two countries. Additionally, the government signaled it would decline a meeting (that eventually took place) between senior White House advisor Kushner and Egypt’s Foreign Minister – and President Trump called President Al-Sisi to underscore the “strength of the friendship” between the two nations.
The relationship between the two countries is monitored closely by many American experts, who are presently arguing about whether the withholding of U.S. aid is related to the deterioration of human rights conditions in Egypt, including restrictions placed on civil society organizations, or to Egypt’s ties to North Korea – which we Egyptians had not been aware of. Nor do we know of the magnitude of Egyptian support to North Korea that could have upset the United States to this degree.
Egypt wants to receive the full amount of U.S. aid, unequivocal U.S. endorsement of its domestic policies, as well as U.S. blessing of its regional political activity; however, it also wants to preserve its independence from the United States! The Egyptian state believes that Egypt deserves to be rewarded because, by fighting local terrorism on its soil, it is serving the entire world and preventing terrorism from spreading to western countries. Thus, Egypt considers that its relationship with the United States should be a one-way road, with all the benefits flowing towards Egypt.
Meanwhile, under President Trump’s administration, the United States has a very clear and practical “what’s in it for me?” foreign policy. This policy is based on the premise that the United States, as the global superpower, should only privilege nations or alliances that truly deserve it! Nevertheless, it is well known that the U.S. political dynamic is comprised of multiple players that work on influencing and manipulating one another.
Cronies of the Egyptian ruling regime are convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood has managed to penetrate the American administration, influencing its decision to withhold part of the aid to Egypt. In fact, Egyptian state media often describe a former American ambassador to Egypt as an agent of the Brotherhood (perhaps she managed to work with other Brotherhood agents in the U.S. Administration to withhold the aid to Egypt!) These same cronies have been working on strengthening the relationship between the two nations by advocating for their viewpoints with key influencers within the U.S. Administration. These kinds of deceptive actions and narratives are not only popular among the Egyptian masses; many state executives and legislative representatives believe them as well.
Meanwhile, American scholars and journalists have been strongly condemning Egypt’s current domestic policies in many areas. Almost all American political scholars described the 30 June 2013 event either as a clear-cut military coup or (in the case of the less critical) as a popularly backed military coup. Additionally, many American pundits believe that Egypt’s current policy is provoking terrorists who could eventually expand their activities to other nations. In the Egyptian state’s view, these scholars are our nation’s enemies and their aim is to see the Muslim Brotherhood re-assume leadership of our country.
Egypt often demands of western nations not to interfere in its domestic affairs, while requesting them to help boost its economy – a challenging proposition for many countries. However, neither party is willing to voice our true differences publicly. The withheld amount of aid is certainly insignificant to the Egyptian government, and therefore I presume that the government will overlook the issue and maintain its current internal policies until the matter fades away with time. In fact, this philosophy has proven to serve Egypt well in the past.
I personally doubt that President Trump is genuinely worried about human rights in Egypt or that he cares about Egypt’s support of North Korea. Either issue could be more usefully addressed with the Egyptian state without involving the matter of U.S. aid, which is often used as a tool either to appease American political stakeholders who are calling for real change in Egypt or to signal that the United States penalizes countries that support the North Korean regime.
Establishing a genuine relationship between Egypt and the United States requires a direct and candid exchange of viewpoints. Equally important is establishing a dialogue between political experts at both ends. These kinds of talks need to be open to the media and the public. The withholding of U.S. aid to Egypt has become a deceptive tool that is misguiding many citizens in both countries – although both governments are aware of its ineffectiveness.