Did the cutting and delaying of $291 million in US aid to Egypt come as a surprise to Cairo, which had been certain of President US Trump’s full support? Cairo reacted quietly to the decision, saying it reflects poor judgment over the decades-long strategic relationship between the two countries. It also said it would decline a meeting (that eventually took place) between senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Egypt’s foreign minister. Trump called President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to underscore the “strength of the friendship” between the two nations. The bilateral relationship is monitored closely by many American experts, who are presently arguing about whether the withholding of US aid relates to the deterioration of human rights in Egypt, or to its ties to North Korea, which Egyptians had not been aware of. Nor do we know the magnitude of Egyptian support to North Korea that could have upset the US to this degree.Egypt wants to receive the full amount of US aid, unequivocal endorsement of its domestic policies, and American blessing of its regional political activity. But it also wants to preserve its independence from the US. Egypt believes it deserves to be rewarded because by fighting terrorism on its soil, it is serving the entire world and preventing terrorism from spreading to the West. So Egypt thinks its relationship with the US should be a one-way road in its favour. Meanwhile, under Trump, the US has a very clear and practical “what’s in it for me?” foreign policy. This policy is based on the premise that the US, as the global superpower, should only privilege nations or alliances that truly deserve it. Nevertheless, it is well known that the US political dynamic comprises multiple players that work on influencing and manipulating one another.Cronies of Egypt’s ruling regime are convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood has penetrated the Trump administration, influencing its decision to partially withhold aid. Egyptian state media often describe a former US ambassador to Egypt as a Brotherhood agent. These cronies have been working to strengthen the relationship between the two nations by advocating for their viewpoints with key influencers in the Trump administration. These deceptive actions and narratives are not only popular among Egyptians, but also among many state executives and legislative representatives.Meanwhile, American scholars and journalists have been strongly condemning Egypt’s domestic policies in many areas. Almost all American political scholars described the 2013 ouster of then-President Mohammed Mursi as a military coup or, less critically, 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 Cairo’s view, these scholars are enemies of Egypt, and their aim is to see the Brotherhood re-assume leadership of the country.Egypt often demands that Western nations not interfere in its domestic affairs, while asking them to help boost its economy – a challenging proposition for many countries. Neither side is willing to voice its differences publicly. The amount of withheld aid is insignificant to Cairo, so it will presumably overlook the issue and maintain its current internal policies until the matter fades away. This philosophy has served Egypt well in the past.I doubt that Trump is genuinely worried about human rights in Egypt, or that he cares about Cairo’s support of North Korea. Either issue could be more usefully addressed without involving US aid, which is often used as a tool either to appease American political stakeholders who call for real change in Egypt, or to signal that the US penalizes countries that support North Korea.Establishing a genuine relationship between Egypt and the US requires a direct and candid exchange of viewpoints. Equally important is dialogue between political experts on both sides that is open to the media and the public. Withholding US aid to Egypt has become a deceptive tool that is misguiding many citizens in both countries, although both governments are aware of its ineffectiveness. Published in Daily Times, August 31st 2017.