Egypt’s decision to press ahead with criminal trials for 43 people, including 19 Americans, has set relations with Washington teetering on the edge of the cliff. Senators John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Joe Lieberman suggested Egypt risks a “disastrous…rupture in relations.”During the French Revolution, crazed paranoid suspicions of foreign and aristocratic plots swept the distracted country as the economy collapsed. In Egypt today, similar fears are at work: foreign forces are operating nefarious schemes in Egypt, agents and hidden hands are glimpsed here and there. Seen from the street, intrigue swirls through the halls of power in Cairo. Western diplomats and NGO workers become spies and villainous operatives. The middle class twitterati, sons and daughters of privilege who have been cheering for “democratic reform,” are Egypt’s most westernized citizens and must be allied with foreign spies.These suspicions aren’t confined to popular opinion. The Egyptian military has many officers who are deeply nationalist and suspicious, and they don’t like the NGO types and the democracy activists for a whole host of reasons. It’s an opportunity for the military to promote nationalist populism as opposed to Islamist populism, an important consideration as the military still wants support for its leading role in government. Anti-Americanism is almost universally popular in the country — an issue too good to give up.Washington’s best approach under the circumstances would be to do as little in public as possible, working quietly to improve conditions for the accused and then arranging quiet departures and settlements.Making this a controversial issue and putting the US at the center only makes things worse. The more we posture and push, the less our friends in Egypt (and we still have some) can do.