It has been a while since Egypt occupied the headlines in the U.S. Over the past few days, the leader of the Egyptian junta regime, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi visited Washington to look for more aid and support for his regime and embrace a warm relationship with the new American president. This visit was followed by the release of the American aid worker of Egyptian origin, Aya Hijazii, who has been held in Cairo for the past three years. Finally, a video showing Egyptian soldiers executing unarmed men in Sinai made its way to the headlines of many U.S. media outlets, mainly because it came out during U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis's visit to Cairo, where he stressed Washington's commitment to supporting the el-Sissi regime.
However, what made Egypt the focus of the media was not the news itself but the fact that it came amid an ongoing political war between the supporters of Trump and his opponents. While Trump supporters hailed the release of Hijazi as a diplomatic victory for Trump, who managed to set the American aid worker free while Obama failed to do so, his opponents were quick to dismiss that notion mentioning that the Obama administration managed to set free Mohammed Soltan, another American held in el-Sissi's prisons while keeping his distance from the Egyptian ruler.
However, what both sides refrained from mentioning was that the U.S. has been a firm supporter of the ruling regime in Cairo both during the Obama and Trump administrations. While it is not fully known the role Washington played before and during el-Sissi's coup in 2013, the relationship between the two countries didn't change much despite the atrocities committed by the junta regime. While the Obama administration initially froze part of the military aid to Egypt, el-Sissi was assured that it was just a cosmetic action to address some legislative issues in Washington. Aid was fully resumed months later despite the notion that the military regime did not stop or decrease its atrocities against the Egyptian opposition. Yes, Obama didn't invite el-Sissi to the White House (though he met him on the sidelines of the UNGA in 2014), yet the military to military relationship that is the backbone of U.S.-Egypt relations continued as strongly and steadfastly as usual. On the other side, it has been much simpler with Trump, who never prioritized human rights and used his meetings with leaders like el-Sissi to marketize his popular base, because he favors strong leadership with someone who kills what Trump calls radical Islamists (aside from the reality that the vast majority of el-Sissi's victims are peaceful political opponents).
So away from the ongoing battle in Washington, we have the reality that U.S.-Egypt relations have been business as usual. During the Obama era, he maintained the strategic relationship with the military in Egypt despite the coup they perpetrated and the massacres they committed while el-Sissi maintained the flow of American military and financial aid to his armed machine without easing his bloody crackdown. And now during the Trump term, Trump scored a point against his opponents claiming to do what his predecessor failed to do, especially when his administration is looking for wins in his first 100 days in the White House, and for el-Sissi he had his dream reception in the White House, which he perceives as vital for the legitimacy of his regime.
Each side in Washington can claim whatever they like, but there is one fact they should remember, that the Egyptian people, aside from their dictators, never saw this relationship with the U.S. to be in their own best interest and in this both Obama and Trump are the same.
* Researcher and expert in Turkish-Arab strategic relations and minority affairs. Director of the Centre of Al-Mashreq Al-Arabi, Birmingham, U.K.