Even before he became president of the United States, Donald Trump had reserved some of his most lavish praise for Egypt’s strongman, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. That’s why it came as no small surprise when news emerged last week that the U.S. had decided to withhold almost $300 million in aid for Egypt. The principal reason for the move, according to Trump administration officials, was Cairo’s continuing crackdown on human rights. But another issue also surfaced as a point of friction: Egypt’s ties to North Korea.
Given what we know about the current U.S. administration, it seems likely that North Korea was the main driver in the decision. After all, concerns about North Korea are increasingly becoming its most urgent foreign policy challenge. And Trump had seemed decidedly inclined to throw his full backing behind Sisi. In April, when the Egyptian president visited him at the White House, Trump proclaimed that Sisi has “done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.” He made clear, “in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President Sisi.”
But four months later, the U.S. denied $95.7 million in aid and delayed a further $195 million, pending changes in Egypt’s actions.